A day later, Rays return to earth
But Tampa Bay remains upbeat despite losing after a wild home-opening win.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 8, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - Saturday morning was different for the Devil Rays. They woke up alone atop the American League East for the first time in three years and - amazingly - for only the sixth day in their 10-season history.
Saturday night was different, too. A drop-off in attendance and excitement from the home opener to the next game is expected. A drop-off in performance sometimes just happens.
The Rays lost to the Blue Jays 8-5, falling behind early after a rough first start by Casey Fossum, who gave up a monstrous grand slam to Frank Thomas, and failing, despite several opportunities, to come all the way back.
The loss dropped the Rays to 2-2 and into a three-way tie for first in the AL East in front of a Tropicana Field crowd of 18,495, about half the size and with about a quarter of the energy of Friday's electric audience.
"Even though it was a loss, we still had some momentum," reliever Shawn Camp said. "Our offense is showing guys, especially on the other team, that we're no joke. We've got some power and some incredible speed, and it just comes down to what manager Joe (Maddon) is talking about, with experience. All it takes is winning some games for it to get contagious."
With a seven-game trip to Texas and Minnesota starting Monday, and a marquee matchup looming today as Scott Kazmir opposes Toronto ace Roy Halladay, Maddon acknowledged that Saturday was "a big game in regard to winning the series."
Despite the outcome, he was pleased with the effort. "There was no quit in the group," he said. "We only made one mistake on defense tonight. I'm okay. Casey had a rough night. That's going to happen."
Certainly, the Rays did their part to lose.
Fossum struggled in his first start since September shoulder surgery, giving up eight hits in 32/3 innings, including the 453-foot bomb by Thomas. B.J. Upton mishandled a throw at second for the Rays' first error of the season (though they were the last team to make one). They went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, stifled by the bullpen tandem of Shawn Marcum (who struck out five of seven batters) and Jason Frasor.
But they did some encouraging things, coming back from a 7-1 deficit in the fourth inning to narrow the gap to 7-5, the rally keyed by Brendan Harris' first hit as a Devil Ray, a three-run homer.
Akinori Iwamura continued his sizzling start with more snazzy defense at third and a single and two walks. He has reached base in 12 of 17 plate appearances. Carl Crawford hit his franchise-most sixth leadoff homer.
The Rays twice rallied for a chance to get even, but with the bases loaded in the fifth, Dioner Navarro and Harris struck out, and with two on in the eighth, Upton and Crawford went down swinging.
Fossum has felt good in a quicker-than-expected recovery, but his pitching wasn't, as 13 of the 22 batters he faced reached base.
Fossum's forte is control and command, but he used 49 pitches in the first two innings, including the 3-1 fastball that Thomas crushed for his ninth grand slam and 480th homer overall. The Big Hurt has been a pain to the Rays, hitting .400 with seven homers in his past 19 games against them.
"Obviously," Fossum said, "that was not the way I wanted to start out."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8801.