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Rays lose lead as skid reaches nine
ORIOLES 5, RAYS 4: Baltimore rallies in the fifth to continue its success against Tampa Bay.
By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published September 20, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - From watching Devil Rays pitcher Jason Hammel cruise through his first three innings of work on Tuesday night, manager Joe Maddon had a feeling his rookie pitcher was on his way to his first big-league win.
But one sleight of foot seemed to derail the 24-year-old Hammel and built into a four-run Orioles fifth inning, setting the stage for a 5-4 loss to Baltimore.
The Devil Rays continued their September sputter, extending their season-high losing streak to nine games, the sixth-longest skid in club history.
The most frustrating fact for the Rays is that they've owned leads in seven of the nine games. It was the 56th time the Rays have lost after owning a lead, the most in the majors by 14 games.
Tampa Bay took a 3-0 lead Tuesday, but Hammel's fifth-inning balk preceded the Orioles' winning rally.
"It's amazing how a balk can unravel a young pitcher," Maddon said. "It's just one base, not a big deal. He moved up 90 feet, but for whatever reason it has an impact. I can tell you, that's not the first time I've seen that happen to a young pitcher. I thought he was in for a good night, then that occurred."
Down 3-1 entering the inning, Brian Roberts opened with a single and moved to second on the balk, a call that pitching coach Mike Butcher questioned from the dugout. Butcher was quickly ejected by home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook.
The Orioles then tacked on three runs off Hammel. Nick Markakis hit a run-scoring single, followed by a Jay Gibbons single and a Ramon Hernandez double that sent Hammel out of the game.
"It comes out of his hand good and he has a pretty good curveball," Gibbons said of Hammel, "but he kind of lost command of his offspeed stuff in that last inning. When you do that in this league, you are going to get hit around a little bit."
Said Hammel, who allowed five runs on 10 hits over 41/3 innings: "It seemed to snowball after that so you might seem to think it affected me. ... They hit the holes."
After intentionally walking Chris Gomez to load the bases, reliever Jon Switzer walked No. 9 hitter David Newhan to bring in the eventual winning run.
The Rays took a 3-0 lead in the second. Jorge Cantu hit a one-out homer, his 14th of the season. B.J. Upton's infield chopper single later scored Damon Hollins, who doubled and moved to third on a groundout. Ben Zobrist's triple scored Upton for the third run.
Baltimore made it 3-1 in the fourth, tallying four singles.
Hollins' sacrifice fly to left in the sixth scored Carl Crawford to bring the Rays within 5-4.
Down by one, Tampa Bay led off the seventh and eighth innings with a baserunner but couldn't score the tying run in either inning.
In the seventh, Delmon Young, his 12-game hitting streak on the line, lined out to second to end the inning.
With runners at second and third with two outs in the eighth, Orioles reliever LaTroy Hawkins struck out Shawn Riggans.
Baltimore committed three errors and left 10 runners on base, but the Orioles were 5-for-12 with runners in scoring position, compared with 2-for-9 for the Rays.
"The runner in scoring position phenomenon right now is just eating us alive," Maddon said. "That speaks volumes."
MAGIC NUMBER: 6
To avoid losing 100 games for the first time since 2002, the Rays need six wins in their final 11 games. Here is where they stand and what they have to do: