tampabay.com

Bam! Then nothing

B.J. Upton's leadoff homer is it for the bats in a fifth straight loss. With controversy swirling around the team, Tampa Bay drops to a season-worst nine games below .500.

By JOANNE KORTH
Published May 24, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG -- Yes, the starting pitcher left in the sixth inning. Sure, the bullpen gave up a couple of runs. But there was something new to talk about after the Rays lost their fifth straight game Wednesday at Tropicana Field.

What happened to the offense?

After a leadoff home run by B.J. Upton, no one in a Rays uniform left so much as a cleat mark on home plate the rest of the night in a 5-1 loss to the Mariners.

"We're just not hitting the ball," manager Joe Maddon said.

The Rays 18-27 lost for the 11th time in 15 games, falling to a season-low nine games below .500, and have lost six straight at Tropicana Field for the first time since June 2005.

Wednesday began with a story in the St. Petersburg Times in which centerfielder Elijah Dukes' wife made allegations he threatened to kill her. With the tone set, the day ended with the team's final 10 batters being retired in order.

The Rays were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position and are 1-for-12 in the series. During the five-game losing streak, they have been outscored 29-12 and held to a .215 batting average.

It is an uncomfortable dilemma for a team that began the season scoring runs galore.

"We're just not the same offensive team that began the season," Maddon said. "We have to get back and play the kind of ball we were playing early on offensively, working the good at-bats, getting to the bullpen early. We have to refocus on stuff like that, simple primary things we talked about in spring training."

Starter Casey Fossum (3-4) pitched well enough to give his team a chance, rediscovering his curveball in the process. He allowed five hits and three runs, one earned, in 6 1/3 innings with three strikeouts and four walks, one intentional.

"The curveball is basically the pitch that got me to the big leagues and I abandoned it," Fossum said. "My curveball is my changeup; that's what keeps them off balance. I told myself I was going to throw it until I start throwing it for strikes."

That reliever Brian Stokes gave up two runs in the seventh hardly mattered because, for consecutive nights, the offense was a no-show after the first inning.

Only once over the final seven innings did Tampa Bay send more than three hitters to the plate.

"I can't say it's one thing we're not doing," leftfielder Carl Crawford said. "We're not getting hits at the end of the game. Whether it's lack of focus or the pitchers really bearing down, I can't say."

After Upton's leadoff home run, Mariners starter Miguel Batista (4-4) allowed only six hits with five strikeouts and two walks, throwing just 86 pitches in six innings.

In the past four games, the Rays have scored six runs in the first inning, two runs in the other innings combined.

And when the Rays lose, they really lose. In games decided by three or more runs, the Rays are a major league-worst 2-18.

"The best thing to do is focus on small things, having good at-bats, trying to get on base any way you can, and then things start rolling," first baseman Carlos Pena said. "When you focus on the small stuff, usually the results are pretty big.

"That's the approach we're trying to take, instead of doing too much."

Joanne Korth can be reached at korth@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8810.