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Rays lose, but in a better way

There's hustle and determination aplenty in a 10-8, 11-inning loss to the Orioles.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 23, 2001


There's hustle and determination aplenty in a 10-8, 11-inning loss to the Orioles.

ST. PETERSBURG -- They are quite the connoisseurs when it comes to losing. They are, in fact, the best major-league baseball currently has to offer when it comes to that particular endeavor.

The Devil Rays know of lost opportunities, lost efforts and, certainly, lost ballgames. So pay them heed when they tell you this is true:

They have not yet lost hope.

The Rays lost 10-8 in 11 innings to Baltimore on Sunday before an announced 18,934 at Tropicana Field. It was the sixth straight series in which the Rays have failed to come out on top, the first team since the 1999 Orioles to start the season with six winless series.

"We're trying to establish a style of play," manager Hal McRae said. "So I like what I see, because we need to do that."

What McRae saw Sunday was a team that hustled on the bases, delivered off the bench and got back-to-back, two-out, ninth-inning home runs from Russ Johnson and Greg Vaughn to complete a game-long comeback.

But he also saw a bullpen continually slip up against the American League's weakest offense. He watched his hitters increase their league-leading strikeout total by fanning another dozen times. And he saw his defense betray him yet again at a crucial moment.

"We're showing up and we're battling for nine innings, and I think you have to look at that as a good sign," catcher John Flaherty said. "We didn't win, but I don't think you can say it was a wasted effort."

Actually, the loss would rank among Tampa Bay's better efforts. The Rays were put in an immediate 5-0 hole when Mike Judd, making his first start, surrendered a three-run homer to Brady Anderson in the second inning and a two-run shot to Chris Richard in the third.

"I was never able to get in a rhythm. Both home runs came when I was behind in the count at 2-1," Judd said. "The pitches caught too much of the plate. That was basically it."

For a team that has lost as methodically as the Rays the past three weeks, it would have been easy to write this off as another doomed effort.

Instead, the Rays slowly put some runs on the board. Felix Martinez had a two-run double in the third, Steve Cox had a run-scoring double in the fifth, Jose Guillen got his first RBI of the season in the eighth. Unfortunately, a procession of Rays relievers also was giving up a run at a time.

"It's always frustrating to score and (then) the opposition scores. To creep close and not be able to come back and put up a zero," McRae said. "But I've only managed for, what, four or five days? I can't get frustrated at this point. It's too early to start kicking cans."

The Rays had the tying run at the plate in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings but failed to capitalize. They were down 8-5 with two outs and a runner on first in the ninth when Johnson, who entered as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning and drew a walk, pulled a pitch down the leftfield line for a home run. Vaughn followed with a 417-foot home run to left to tie it.

"That's a confidence builder," Johnson said. "We know, hey, three runs down we're still in a game. All we've got to do is get some guys on base and we've got Greg Vaughn and Fred McGriff and Ben Grieve coming up behind us."

The Rays had a chance to win in the ninth when Grieve followed Vaughn's homer with a single to right. Pinch-runner Randy Winn stole second base, but Guillen grounded out to end the inning. The Rays never got another runner on.

The game turned when Melvin Mora led off the 11th with a grounder that bounced higher than Martinez anticipated at shortstop and went off his wrist for an error. Anderson moved Mora to second with a bunt and Mike Bordick, Delino DeShields and Jerry Hairston followed with ground-ball singles.

"I missed it. It doesn't matter how it bounced, I should not have missed it," Martinez said. "I didn't want to miss it, but it won't be the last time in my life that it happens."

It was the fifth time this season an opponent has scored the winning run with the help of a Tampa Bay error. The Rays have allowed a staggering 27 unearned runs through 19 games. By comparison, the Indians allowed 41 unearned runs in 162 games last season.

"It was a good game, an exciting game," McRae said. "We battled back and that's the way I expect us to play. We came back strong and that's a sign the players are determined not to quit."

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