Banged-up Rays waste Hammel's latest gem

Jason Hammel is sharp, but the Angels' John Lackey is even better.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 19, 2007

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Devil Rays needed a strong start from Jason Hammel to contol the pesky Angels on Tuessay, and they got it. But Angels starter John Lackey was even better, shutting the Rays down and nearly shutting them out in a 2-1 loss.

With a lineup already missing All-Star Carl Crawford further depleted after productive second baseman Brendan Harris strained a side muscle during batting practice, the Rays (63-89) managed just six hits in losing to the AL West leaders for the second straight night.

"We faced fricking Cy Young tonight," Hammel said. "What do you say?"

Hammel wasn't bad himself, holding the hard-charging Angels to two runs on seven hits over six innings. Since some intense work with pitching coach Jim Hickey to refine his mechanics, Hammel has been markedly better, with Tuesday his fourth consecutive start of allowing two runs or fewer.

"He has much better command of all his pitches, and his windup looks a whole lot better," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

Said Hammel: "I feel real good right now, real confident in everything I'm throwing. What we've worked on is all coming together. I'm really excited everytime every time I go out there."

But he couldn't do enough as Lackey - mixing his pitches and hitting spots on the fringes of the strike zone - dominated the Rays, allowing only two hits through the first seven innings and five while working into the ninth. He won his 17th overall, lowered his ERA to 3.13 and improved to a showy 8-1 against the Rays.

"He's been doing that to a lot of folks," Maddon said.

Down 2-0 after a sloppy play and a questionable call, the Rays rallied in the ninth as B.J. Upton chased Lackey with a leadoff double. Francisco Rodriguez struck out Delmon Young and Jonny Gomes but Dioner Navarro (who tried to go to first following ball three - "the old college try," Maddon said) walked and impressive callup Jorge Velandia - in his first three-hit game in the majors - singled in Upton to make it 2-1. But Josh Wilson was called out on a check swing to end it.

The Rays allowed one run in the first as Brandon product Chone Figgins led off with a single, stole second, went to third when catcher Navarro's somewhat errant throw bounced by substitute second baseman Velandia, then scored on Hammel's wild pitch.

In the sixth, it wasn't anything they did as first-base ump Brian Runge's extremely questionable call on what should have been the completion of an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play instead allowed Garret Anderson, who'd doubled and moved to third on a groundout, to score.

Maddon came out to protest but, unlike in a similar situation Monday, did not get ejected.