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Sinking feeling arrives with loss
Coors Field unnerves Andy Sonnanstine and the other Rays.
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published June 17, 2007
DENVER - The Devil Rays just aren't comfortable right now.
For rookie starter Andy Sonnanstine, it was a matter of the thinner air and flatter mound of Coors Field. For rightfielder Jonny Gomes, it was a brutally tough sky that made several fly balls an adventure. For their hitters, it was a stark absence of clutch hits.
For team leader Carl Crawford, it is something less tangible but somewhat troubling as the Rays, battling through injuries to key players and the distractions of the Elijah Dukes situation, lost their fourth straight Saturday, 10-5 to the Rockies.
"I don't know what it is, " Crawford said. "I wish I had an answer. This is one of those times when I'm just clueless. For real. It can be a mixture of a lot of stuff. All that stuff.
"It's just not a good feeling right now, I know that. We're facing some good teams. But it shouldn't be this bad."
The Rays 29-37 haven't won since Tuesday, and have been outscored 38-8 in the process.
In two games in Colorado, they saw their top pitcher, James Shields, lose for the first time Friday, and Sonnanstine, their impressive rookie, struggle on Saturday.
Sonnanstine gave up the first walk of his major-league career and seven runs on three home runs, including a first-inning grand slam. In both games, they were immediately down 4-0.
"Those four-point firsts are tough, " manager Joe Maddon said.
The teams went back and forth, and the Rays kept it interesting, and close, through the fifth, narrowing the gap to 7-5. Brendan Harris doubled in a run and homered, Carlos Pena hit his team-high 15th homer and Gomes doubled in another.
But they failed when it mattered most, going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranding seven a night after going 0-for-6 and leaving on 10.
The Rockies, who have won 18 of 26, kept scoring, tacking on three runs off reliever Casey Fossum as Gomes flat out lost a fly ball in the dusk sky that scored one run and Delmon Young, having similar problems, made an errant throw that led to another.
Even though Shields warned him, Sonnanstine had problems getting used to the Coors Field mound that has less of a slope than they were used to and seemed "flatter." He also had trouble gripping the balls, which are kept in a humidor, and he wasn't getting the normal break on his slider and curveball.
"A few of them slipped out of my hand, " he said.
Sonnanstine had faced 56 batters in his first two major-league starts without walking anyone. So it wasn't a good sign when he started Saturday's game with four straight balls to leadoff man Willy Taveras.
A double, a strikeout, an intentional walk to dangerous Todd Helton (to set up a double play, Maddon explained) and a popout later, it looked like it might work as Sonnanstine got ahead of Brad Hawpe 0-and-2.
But he couldn't finish him off, and Hawpe battled back to crush a hanging 2-2 slider into the rightfield seats for a grand slam.
"He battles well, " Maddon said. "One pitch away, it didn't happen. But I still have a lot of faith in Sonny."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8801. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.