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Dukes adds drama to routine loss

The troubled rookie returns with a tying HR before the pen falters.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 26, 2007


CHICAGO - Joe Maddon's primary reason for putting troubled Elijah Dukes back in the lineup Friday was an effort to return the Devil Rays to "normalcy" after what had been a few unsettling days.

And though Dukes made an eventful (and incident-free) return by hitting a three-run, score-tying homer in the seventh, the game turned out somewhat, well, normal, as the Rays blew it in the end, losing 5-4.

This time it was a walkoff sacrifice fly by Joe Crede off Brian Stokes, but that wasn't the only mistake. Chad Orvella, pitching in the ninth with Shawn Camp unavailable, walked the first two hitters. Stokes, after an impressive strikeout of Jermaine Dye, gave up a single on an 0-2 pitch to A.J. Pierzynski -- "a critical moment," Maddon said -- to load the bases before Crede's at-bat.

All that was after James Shields struggled through what he called "probably my worst start of the year, " allowing a season-high 10 hits and as many as four runs for the first time since mid April, and Carl Crawford made a pair of costly baserunning mistakes, including getting caught stealing third by the pitcher with two on in the eighth.

"It's frustrating to lose that game like that," said Stokes, who has been on the mound for five game-losing situations.

The Rays (19-28) were down 4-1 through six innings, when Dukes -- who hadn't played since the report in Wednesday's Times in which his estranged wife said he threatened to kill her and their kids -- made his presence felt.

With Jorge Cantu aboard, White Sox starter Mark Buehrle hit Brendan Harris to bring up Dukes, and he knocked a 1-0 pitch 396 feet into the leftfield seats, his major-league rookie-leading ninth homer.

Dukes, through team spokesman Rick Vaughn, declined to speak to the media, as he has since commenting briefly to the Times on Tuesday.

"It was great for him to come back and hit that home run and do something positive just to get the negative stuff out of the way," Crawford said. "It's nice to see Elijah do something good after all the negative."

The Rays took no disciplinary action against Dukes, who has not been charged with any crime, but kept him on the bench for two days for what they said was his and their best interest.

Maddon said he went back-and-forth on what to do Friday -- admittedly "teetering" -- before deciding to put the 22-year-old back in the lineup, playing centerfield and batting leadoff. He said being away from the bay area, where Dukes has been a center of controversy and subject of passionate debate for days, was a factor but not the primary reason.

"I just want to get back to playing baseball and put this thing behind us," Maddon said. "Believe me, a lot of thought has gone into this. I won't deny that I've lost sleep over it; I have. It's a very important decision, I think, and I did not take it lightly. But I felt today was the right day to move it along and have him start to participate again and see if we can get some normalcy."

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg is due in Chicago today on a previously scheduled trip and is expected to talk with, and about, Dukes. MLB commissioner Bud Selig and his staff are looking at the situation, spokesman Rich Levin said: "The commissioner heard about it, and he's concerned about it and wanted some information."

Dukes' return seemed hardly noteworthy until the seventh as he was hitless in his first three at-bats and was barely acknowledged by the 34, 538 U.S. Cellular Field fans, who seemed more interested in the Sox's '70s night promotion.

There was just a smattering of boos from the fans behind home plate when he was introduced for his first at-bat and no obvious reaction from the fans sitting in the sections closest to centerfield when he took his position.

There was some heckling later -- including an extended rant from one fan when he made a running catch of Pierzynski's deep fly in the fourth and some fans making reference to domestic violence -- but nothing major.

"Again, it's getting back to normal, and he has to be able to handle the situation," Maddon said. "You can only hold hands so often and then it's at the point where people have to deal with things on their own. So he's going to have to go out there and deal with it, too."

 

White Sox 5

Rays 4