tampabay.com

Rays can't find their comeback magic

INDIANS 5, RAYS 3: A day after a stunning rally, Tampa Bay blows its 68th lead this season and goes down rather meekly.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published August 20, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - There was no ninth-inning comeback this time.

Saturday, the Devil Rays fell behind after losing their early lead and stayed there in a 5-3 loss to the Indians.

Friday, the Rays rallied for three runs in the ninth and pulled out a 6-5 win. Saturday, pinch-hitter Greg Norton singled with one out, but Rocco Baldelli was called out on strikes and rookie Ben Zobrist struck out.

The Rays didn't give themselves much of a chance, held to seven hits by the trio of Jeremy Sowers, Fausto Carmona and Tom Mastny.

"The most inconsistent part of our team has been offensively, scoring runs," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We just don't cash in on opportunities often enough. We need to do better."

The Rays (49-74) have blown a lead 68 times this season, tied with Kansas City for second most in the majors, and have lost a major-league-high 44 games in which they have led.

The Rays took a 2-0 lead in the first, but Tim Corcoran couldn't hold it. The Indians scored three times after two were out in a 41-pitch fourth inning and could have had more had they not needlessly run into an out on the bases.

A single by Victor Martinez with one out and another by Ryan Garko with two outs set them up, and Jhonny Peralta, the shortstop victimized by a bad-hop single that turned Friday's game, delivered, driving a 2-and-0 pitch into the rightfield corner for a triple that tied it.

Rookie Joe Inglett knocked in Peralta with a single to put Cleveland ahead 3-2, and Andy Marte continued the rally with another single. Grady Sizemore walked to load the bases, but as ball four bounced away from catcher Dioner Navarro, Inglett came far around third, far enough that Corcoran took a flip and ran him back to the base, then caught Marte between second and third.

Corcoran threw to second baseman Jorge Cantu, who saw Inglett break again for the plate and threw home, where Navarro tagged him.

Corcoran has pitched well in spurts - including a stellar performance last Sunday in Oakland when he allowed three hits over seven innings - but has not won as a starter since July 5. (He won in relief July 9). Saturday, he lasted only four innings, allowing five hits and five walks.

In seven starts since the All-Star break he is 0-5 with a 6.67 ERA, allowing 40 hits and 22 walks in 332/3 innings.

The Tampa Bay bullpen kept it 3-2 until the seventh, when Shawn Camp made a bad mistake on an 0-and-2 pitch to Travis Hafner, who drove it deep into the rightfield seats for his 37th home run and 109th RBI of the season.

The Rays cut the margin back to one in the seventh when Baldelli singled, went to second on Zobrist's hard out and scored on a single by Carl Crawford, who improved his team-best average with runners in scoring position to .365.

But the Indians got the run right back in the eighth off Dan Miceli. Garko singled and, with two outs, Marte - whom the Rays tried to acquire during the offseason - doubled him in.

Between injuries and ineffective performances, Maddon has juggled, tweaked and reshaped the lineup on an almost daily basis, 111 versions in 123 games. Saturday's big change was his decision to drop slumping Cantu, who went into the game 12-for-74 since July 24, all the way to eighth in an effort to take away whatever pressure he may have felt hitting in the middle of the order.

Still, Cantu came up in one of the game's most crucial situations, with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth, but grounded into a fielder's choice.

Maddon's options were severely reduced anyway with Norton (strained left hamstring) again limited to pinch-hitting duties and B.J. Upton (strained left shoulder) to pinch-running.

That left infielder/outfielder Russell Branyan and backup catcher Josh Paul as the only healthy position players on the bench, and Maddon at least thinking about using starting pitcher James Shields if he needed another player.