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Yes, things can get worse

Poor defense and relief work help the Rays blow a 5-0 lead in a 9-5 loss to the Royals.

[AP photo]
Kansas City Royals' Joe Randa, center, is surrounded by teammates as they celebrate his grand slam that won the game against the Rays.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2001


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Where do you begin when the losing has no end?

Do you start with the defensive specialist at shortstop who is leading the majors in errors and almost singlehandedly wiped out a 5-0 lead Wednesday?

Do you begin with the closer, the one bright spot this season, who is entrusted with a lead and gives up a ninth-inning grand slam?

Do you look to the ownership group, an increasingly laughable partnership that makes the on-field results look good by comparison?

Maybe you just start at zero because, heaven knows, the Devil Rays have hit rock bottom. Right? Please?

Of all of their losses this season -- and the Rays have more than any team in the majors -- Wednesday's may have been the worst.

The Rays lost 9-5 to the Royals, blowing a 5-0 lead along the way and losing for the first time when taking a lead into the ninth inning.

And, oh by the way, former Rays closer Roberto Hernandez threw a scoreless ninth to earn his first win with the Royals.

"Where does it end? It ends when we decide to make it end," said designated hitter Greg Vaughn, who staked the Rays to a 1-0 lead with his eighth home run. "It's not about us. It's about the team. It's about winning games. And that's only going to happen when people stop worrying about their own numbers and start playing to win. Quit pouting and start playing."

photo
[AP photo]
Gerald Williams is tagged out by Kansas City Royals second baseman Luis Ordaz as he tries to stretch a single into a double.
What is frightening is that a franchise-worst April has given way to an even more horrible May. The Rays went 8-18 in the season's first month and since have gone 3-10.

They had a chance to get healthy in Kansas City, where the Royals have been nearly as bad. But Tuesday night, the Rays failed to hit in the clutch. Wednesday night, they failed to field and pitch in the clutch.

Shortstop Felix Martinez, who has 12 errors in 38 games after making 14 in 106 games last season, was responsible for the play of the game. Or the misplay, depending on the perspective.

Staked to a 5-0 lead, starter Bryan Rekar appeared on the way to his first victory in nine starts. He gave up a leadoff single in the sixth, but he got Jermaine Dye to following with an easy double-play ball. Except Martinez let the ball go between his legs.

What ensued was a four-run inning with only one earned run.

"The miscue by Felix was mental, not physical," manager Hal McRae said. "He's made some errors where the ball has gotten under his glove. Those, to me, are a lack of concentration."

McRae said the same was true of closer Esteban Yan. He brought Yan in with two out and a runner on third in the eighth, and the closer got a quick out to end the threat. Then he failed to complete the job in the ninth.

Yan hit Luis Ordaz to lead off the inning, then surrendered back-to-back singles to Carlos Beltran and Rey Sanchez to tie the score. Mike Sweeney bounced out to third with Sanchez advancing to second.

The Rays intentionally walked Dye, but Joe Randa smacked Yan's first pitch down the leftfield line for the winning grand slam.

"He's had some trouble going back out (for another inning)," McRae said. "But he doesn't pitch that often, so there's no reason he shouldn't be able to take good stuff back out to the mound. There's no reason for that, other than losing his focus after he comes in the first time. He doesn't take the same attitude back to the mound. That's mental, that's not physical."

Yan said he did not feel as if he lost his concentration, he just put himself in a hole by hitting Ordaz. It was his first blown save in six tries.

"That was my big mistake. It was a tie game, I wanted a double play so I threw a split for a strike and he hit a home run," Yan said. "That was the big mistake."

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