tampabay.com

Rays fall just shy of Texas sweep

RANGERS 4, RAYS 3: Pitcher Tim Corcoran's slow start proves costly.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published August 25, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Devil Rays starter Tim Corcoran said there were times Thursday night that he just did not feel he had sufficient focus on the mound.

Other times, perhaps, he wasn't "angry" enough to get that extra oomph on the ball.

"I never established my fastball," the right-hander said. "I never established nothing."

The result: Corcoran lost his sixth straight decision, 4-3 to the Rangers at Tropicana Field, and extended his streak without a victory to eight games.

"Just not aggressive," he said. "I just took too long to find my groove."

Too bad, not only for Corcoran, who won his first four decisions after being converted from the bullpen, but Tampa Bay as well. The team could have really benefited from a victory.

It would have given the Rays a sweep of the four-game series, a match of the season's longest win streak and a winning record in a season-high 10-game homestand that ended 5-5.

More important, though, it would have given them a terrific boost heading into the black hole; that is, a six-game road trip against the Orioles and White Sox.

The Rays (52-76) are a respectable 34-31 at home but 18-45 on the road, better than only the Royals in the American League. Since the All-Star break, they are 1-15.

"We just have to learn to win on the road," manager Joe Maddon said. "I have some ideas; nothing spectacular, something subtle."

Maddon did not get specific.

"If we don't do well, I'll deny I ever tried it," he said.

Maddon has made such noises before but said his current, off-the-field, behind-the-scenes plan is different than the one he decided not to try on the previous road trip because, "It didn't taste right."

Still, Maddon promised, "If you see us doing well, I'll spill it."

Corcoran's spills led to early thrills for the Rangers. He gave up Carlos Lee's 413-foot home run and consecutive doubles to Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock in the first inning as the Rangers took a 2-0 lead. Texas got two more in the third on a passed ball on Dioner Navarro and Teixeira's sacrifice fly.

"It's just a lack of focus at times, not staying the course," said Corcoran, who has not won since July 9 against the Yankees. "That's what I have to work on."

He finally found his groove and got through the sixth inning without more damage, and Chad Orvella, Brian Meadows and Jon Switzer pitched three innings in relief to run the bullpen's scoreless streak to 151/3.

The problem was the offense did nothing against Robinson Tejeda, who with his 97-mph fastball allowed one hit in the first four innings, Greg Norton's second-inning single.

The right-hander allowed five hits and struck out three in a career-high 7 2/3 innings and upped his record this season against Tampa Bay to 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA. He is 0-3 with an 8.57 ERA against the rest of the league.

"He's a guy who when he throws strikes is going to be effective because he's got pretty good stuff," Rays centerfielder Rocco Baldelli said. "Today he was throwing strikes."

The Rays had their chances.

Down 4-2 in the seventh, they blew a double steal when Navarro, at first and running behind Carl Crawford, was tagged out in a rundown. Down a run in the ninth with runners on first and second, Russell Branyan struck out against closer Akinori Otsuka to end the game.

"It would have been nice to finish it off tonight," Maddon said. "But we made some strides (on the homestand)."

Maybe they can do the same on the road.