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Pitching, defense, poise add up to loss

Rays get some crucial things right but fail to cash in on scoring chances as Rangers win 5-2.

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Tuesday night against Texas, the Rays did the little things manager Hal McRae has been talking about since he took over April 18.

They were more patient at the plate. Ben Grieve's three walks proved that.

They made key defensive plays. Fred McGriff snared a one-hopper behind first base. Bryan Rekar snagged a high bouncer up the middle. And Andy Sheets and Damian Rolls connected in the second for on one of the prettiest double plays this season.

They even played a little hardnosed. Rolls slid hard into second to upend second baseman Randy Velarde and break up a potential inning-ending double play in the fifth.

What the Rays didn't do was get the big hits they needed -- the single with the bases loaded or the ball through the right side of the infield with a runner on third and one out. And that is why Texas won its second consecutive game for the first time in more than a month, 5-2 in front of an announced 11,179 at Tropicana Field.

The Rays gave themselves plenty of chances, getting a baserunner in every inning and getting almost as many walks (seven) as hits (eight). All that did was give Texas a chance to tie a club record by turning five double plays.

"If we continue to get them on base, we will get them in," McRae said. "The problem we've had is not getting them on base, not getting enough chances to knock somebody in."

Perhaps the biggest wasted opportunity came in the fifth inning, although the ninth was a close second.

In the fifth, it looked as if the Rays were ready to break a scoreless tie when Sheets walked to lead off and Rolls singled. Gerald Williams hit a grounder up the middle that shortstop Alex Rodriguez tossed to Velarde to start an apparent double play. But Rolls slid hard enough to disrupt Velarde's throw and allow Williams to reach.

Starting pitcher Kenny Rogers then walked Grieve for the third time to load the bases for Greg Vaughn.

The designated hitter worked the count full, dodging three inside pitches before being called out on a check swing by home-plate umpire Jeff Kellogg.

"That's what I look for," Vaughn said. "That's what I get paid to do; I get paid to produce in those situations. It's nobody else's fault but mine."

That turned out to be the theme of the night for the Rays, who fell to 12-32. They maintained a stranglehold on the worst record in the majors.

In the sixth, Randy Winn tripled with one out, but he was thrown out at the plate when Velarde fielded Aubrey Huff's grounder just behind the mound and threw to catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

In the ninth, the Rays scored two quick runs when Mike DiFelice recorded his first two RBI of the season with a single to left. Sheets singled to put runners on first and second. But pinch hitter Steve Cox grounded into a double play, and Jeff Zimmerman struck out Williams, stranding two and ending the game.

Bryan Rekar again was the recipient of a dismal offensive showing, running his record to 0-6 in 10 starts this season and notching the longest losing streak of his career.

Rekar went in with the third-lowest run support in the majors, 2.79 runs per nine innings. Tuesday night won't help that average, though Rekar may have pitched his best game of the season.

"I got the loss, I didn't get the win, so I'm not satisfied," Rekar said. "I felt like I was able to hit my spots. Early on I was really fortunate the defense was catching balls and kept me in the game. I just gave up too many.

"It's a long season. Plenty of times I've pitched bad and gotten the win. It usually evens out. I don't call it bad luck; it's just one of those things."

Rekar breezed through the first seven innings, scattering eight hits. Besides a pair of harmless Alex Rodriguez doubles, Rekar's only indiscretion was a 2-and-2 pitch he left up just enough for Gabe Kapler to rip over the leftfield fence in the seventh.

That home run marked the 15th consecutive game in which the Rangers have hit one, setting a team mark.

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