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Gaffes cancel signs of hope
A'S 9, Rays 7: Joe Maddon chalks up another close loss to mental errors, including one that ends the game.
By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published September 11, 2006
Shortstop Tomas Perez tags Jay Payton trying to steal in the second.
ST. PETERSBURG - Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon could look at the box score of Sunday afternoon's game and finally find the offense that has been lacking most of the season.
These days, however, the solace is getting short.
If there has been one factor that has kept the Rays from winning most close games, it has been their offense. That wasn't the case in their 9-7 loss to Oakland at Tropicana Field. The Rays rattled out 14 hits against the AL West-leading A's.
Seven of the Rays' nine starters had hits. Three of them - Rocco Baldelli, Delmon Young and Jorge Cantu - had three hits apiece. The Rays put up 22 runs in three games against the respectable Oakland starting trifecta of Dan Haren, Esteban Loaiza and Barry Zito.
"We've been swinging the bats well," Baldelli said. "We have to feel pretty good about what we did."
Still, the Rays have yet to find ways to win the close games. Thirteen of their past 14 have been decided by three runs or fewer. They are 5-8 in those games.
"There's something to be said about the phrase, 'Learning how to win,' " Maddon said. "We're not there yet. We're getting there."
"On the positive side, we kept battling," Rays designated hitter Greg Norton said. "Once again, we were competitive, but eventually that's not good enough. After a while, who cares if you win a game by one or five? We still lost."
Maddon said the Rays made several mental mistakes not seen in the box score: baserunning blunders, missed signs, positioning flaws, poor pitch execution.
"Physical mistakes I can carry," Maddon said. "The mental mistakes are things that reach out at you."
Down to the final out, those small miscues were still evident. With runners on first and second, one out and the winning run at the plate in pinch-hitter Kevin Witt, the Rays were doubled up to end the game. Witt lined Huston Street's pitch down the first-base line, but right at first baseman Dan Johnson. Johnson raced to the first-base bag to try to catch Cantu before he could get back. Cantu's slide beat him, but Johnson threw to second to catch Norton, who assumed Cantu was out.
"Instead of running, I just kind of watched the play," Norton said. "I ended the game with a bone-headed baserunning mistake."
Oakland hit four of the game's six homers, including Frank Thomas' shot to lead off the fourth, the first of two that inning that gave the A's a 4-2 lead. Thomas homered in all three games against the Rays and in five straight, tying a franchise record. Eric Chavez, Nick Swisher and Marco Scutaro also homered for Oakland. Cantu and Baldelli homered for Tampa Bay.
"They're getting hot offensively at the right time," Maddon said of Oakland, a team he faced often in his years with the Angels.
Rays starter Jae Seo, who yielded six runs on nine hits over 41/3 innings, allowed three of the A's homers. He has allowed 23 in 22 starts this season between the Rays and Dodgers.
But that wasn't what bothered Maddon the most. It was the mental flaws.
"We've got to eradicate those points," he said. "That's what's holding us back."
RAYS' MAGIC NUMBER:6
To avoid losing 100 games for the first time since 2002, the Rays need six wins in their final 19 games. Here is where they stand and what they have to do:
Current record: 57-86 .399
To avoid 100: 6-13 .316
NEXT GAME: Tuesday, 7:05 p.m., at Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y.