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Puzzled Rays lose
Starter Jason Hammel shows inconsistency, leaving Joe Maddon at a loss to explain the young pitcher's struggles.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published September 27, 2006
BOSTON -There are times such as last weekend, when the unlikely duo of J.P. Howell and Brian Stokes beat Yankees aces Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina, that the Devil Rays have reason to believe their young pitchers are close to becoming major-league pitchers.
And there are times like Tuesday night, when Jason Hammel was inconsistent and couldn't get past the fourth inning against David Ortiz and the otherwise Dead Red Sox, that make it seem reality and potential are far away.
"You can't be a major-league pitcher for a long time if you're not consistent," Hammel said. "And that's what I've got to learn. I'm just not executing my pitches."
With Ortiz hitting his 54th home run and singling in two runs to push his RBI total to 137, and with Curt Schilling picking up his 15th win in his last start of the season, the Sox beat the Rays 5-1.
The victory meant little for the Sox, who are finding out how most of the rest of the baseball world lives, playing out the final week with nothing to play for beyond individual achievements and meager accomplishments (such as maintaining a streak of finishing no lower than second).
But the loss had lots of meaning for the Rays.
- It dropped their overall record to 60-97, leaving them needing to win three of five remaining games to avoid losing 100 games for the third time in their nine seasons.
- It set an AL record as the 58th game they lost after leading, breaking a tie with the 2002 Tigers, though short of the 1998 Marlins' major-league mark of 66.
- It extended their remarkable struggles on the road, where they have won twice - yes, twice - in 31 games since July 1 and, if they lose the remaining five, in line to usurp the record low for post-All-Star break road wins of three by the 1943 Philadelphia A's.
- And it guaranteed a team record low in overall road wins, since they are 19-57 and had never won fewer than 25 road games in a season. Their 19 wins are currently the third fewest since the major leagues adopted the 162-game schedule, with the Mets winning only 17 in 1963 and 18 in 1962.
The Rays like a lot of what Hammel does, specifically they downward motion the 6-foot-6 right-hander gets on his fastball, making his improving curveball and above-average changeup even more effective.
When he is right, he looks like he could be ready to be part of the big-league rotation, joining Scott Kazmir, Jae Seo and James Shields as likely starters heading into spring training.
But when things go awry, as they did in the four-run fourth, helped by back-to-back walks that loaded the bases for Ortiz, the Rays aren't sure what to make of him.
"He just couldn't get through that moment again," manager Joe Maddon said. "I really don't know what the answer is right now."
Hammel worked four innings, then stayed in the dugout for two more to watch Schilling, admiring his presence and looking to pick up a few things. Hammel has made eight big-league starts without a win and admits to a little frustration.
"It's a learning process," he said. "I knew it wasn't going to happen right away. It's just taken a little longer than I expected."