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Rays beaten, bruised

Lack of power, clutch hitting result in a 6-2 loss to the Royals as Russ Johnson winds up disabled.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001


photo
[AP photo]
Tampa Bay Devil Rays catcher John Flaherty, center, has a talk with starting pitcher Paul Wilson as manager Hal McRae goes to the mound to make a pitching change in the seventh inning against the Royals.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Pain can be a relative concept.

The Rays lost another game Tuesday night, this time 6-2 against the Royals, but they have done that often enough to become fairly numbed by it.

Manager Hal McRae lost in his much-anticipated return to Kansas City, bringing his career managerial record under .500 again, but he is strong enough not to let the hurt show.

Second baseman Russ Johnson, who has a starting job for the first time in his major-league career, strained a quadriceps on the bases and landed on the disabled list after the game.

Now that one was painful.

Johnson's injury is not considered serious enough to keep him sidelined for an extended period, but the Rays could not afford to have an active infielder on the shelf for even one day. With 12 pitchers on the roster, Damian Rolls is the only backup infielder.

So Johnson goes to the disabled list, and the Rays are expected to call up veteran infielder Andy Sheets from Triple-A Durham today.

"I didn't get the opportunity to wait a couple of days to see if I could come back. Just wham-bam, you're done, thank you," Johnson said. "We're hurting for players -- Hal told me that -- and I understand.

"But at the same time, I'm kind of (ticked) off about it. But what are you going to do? We need help up here."

Truer words were never spoken. An inefficient offense snuffed Tampa Bay's one-game winning streak. Even so, that matched the Rays' second-longest winning streak of the season.

If ever Tampa Bay has a chance to get hot, it would be against the Royals. Kansas City came in with a 3-10 record in May, and a Rays victory would have moved Tampa Bay within one-half game of the Royals for the worst record in the league.

But the Rays were victimized by a failure to hit in the clutch. In two innings, three batters had a chance to drive in a run from third with less than two outs, and each one failed to get the ball out of the infield.

Greg Vaughn popped up in foul territory with the tying run at third in the sixth. Gerald Williams grounded out to third, and Rolls struck out with the go-ahead run at third in the seventh.

"The opportunities that hurt are the ones where you don't need a base hit to score a run," McRae said. "It's not easy to get a base hit to knock in a run. But the percentage should be about 65-70 percent when there is a runner on third base with less than two outs. You should be pretty efficient in those situations, and we were not efficient tonight."

The inefficiency was not limited to those moments. Overall, the Rays grounded into three double plays and left eight runners on base. They banged out 10 hits but not a single extra-base hit.

Unfortunately, none of this was good news for starter Paul Wilson, who had one of his better performances.

Wilson left in the seventh with the score tied at 2 and two runners on base. Unlike the Rays, the Royals capitalized. Reliever Dan Wheeler gave up hits to three of the four batters he faced, and Kansas City scored four times.

Otherwise, Wilson seemed to have better command than in the past month. He was more aggressive with his fastball, got ahead in counts and did not walk a batter.

"I thought everything was working well for me, but when you're struggling, bad breaks tend to hurt you more," Wilson said. "No matter how good I thought the outing was, we still lost."

The Rays did not play poorly; they just did nothing special to win the game. "I feel like we let one get away," McRae said. "We missed some scoring opportunities. The type you hate to miss."

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