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Rays blow chances, lose 6-4

Failed rallies prove costly. But manager Hal McRae says he is unsatisfied with pitching ace Albie Lopez's performance.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Looking for a cool, quiet place to get away from the crowds this holiday weekend?

Consider Tropicana Field.

The Rays opened the four-game series with a dud, losing 6-4 to Anaheim in a game their manager figured, with ace Albie Lopez on the mound, they should have won. But what really made it special was the intimate setting -- the announced 10,946 was the smallest crowd in the franchise's 31/2-season history.

The Rays kept it close with a pair of two-run, two-out rallies and got the tying run to the plate in ninth. But the most tense moments may have occurred after the game, when manager Hal McRae made it clear he was not pleased with Lopez's performance.

photo
[Times photo: Daniel Wallace]
Gerald Williams overruns home plate and tries to leap back over catcher Jorge Fabregas.
"When we get as many runs as we did tonight with Lopie pitching, I would bet that we'd win the ballgame," McRae said. "I thought we were in it, but they continued to score, and I was surprised they were able to continue to score. I thought he would shut them down. And the frustrating part about tonight is that I know he's capable of shutting them down."

McRae said he thought Lopez's biggest problem was that he was "not focused."

That analysis didn't appear to go over well with Lopez.

"He's the manager, he would know. He seems to know it all," Lopez said.

Declining to further discuss McRae's observation, Lopez said there was nothing unusual or particularly wrong with his outing, that he stuck with his usual game plan of throwing the ball over the plate and taking his chances.

Lopez, winless since April 24, wasn't bothered by the groin strain that forced him to leave the May 9 game and miss his next start, nor the bruised right thumb that knocked him out of his last start.

"No excuses," Lopez said. "I went out there as hard as I could."

The Angels nicked Lopez for single runs in the second and third, but the Rays tied it on consecutive third-inning hits by Andy Sheets, Jason Tyner, Damian Rolls and Ben Grieve, who is on a .380 tear over his past 19 games.

The Angels got to Lopez again in the fifth, getting two runs on a double by University of Florida product David Eckstein and a homer by Darin Erstad, and another when Troy Glaus doubled and later scored.

The Rays got two of the runs back right away, with Tyner, Rolls and Grieve teaming again, but that was it.

Greg Vaughn, whose best swing of the night may have come in the on-deck circle during the third inning when he snapped his bat and sent the barrel flying into the stands, struck out with two on to end the fifth, then grounded out with two on and two outs in the seventh.

Vaughn is hitting .204 with runners in scoring position, and is 3-for-23 (.130) when there are two outs.

"I thrive on those situations and I want to be in those situations," Vaughn said. "I just have to keep swinging. I'll get 'em. Believe me, I'll get 'em."

The Angels added their final run on a two-out eighth-inning homer by Scott Spiezio. Closer Troy Percival, after allowing a leadoff single by pinch-hitter Randy Winn, retired Tyner, pinch-hitter Steve Cox and Grieve to end the game.

In saying the Rays' four runs should have been enough for a victory, McRae made it clear that he expects a lot out of Lopez, the ace of the beleaguered staff.

"I know he's struggling now, but he's the one guy who can take a lot of pressure off the pitching staff if he steps up, and he has the stuff to step up," McRae said.

"Him not pitching well holds the other starters back because he's the leader of the pack, and I think he brings them with him if he pitches well. They need him to pitch well to take the lead. And I'm confident that he will."

The Rays need something to get them going. As the crowds continue to shrink the losses mount.

The Rays have lost eight of 10 and 18 of 23, and their 13-34 start is the worst since the 1996 Tigers.

"We just can't put a good solid baseball game together on a consistent basis," Vaughn said. "That's what we're not doing. And it's not for lack of effort; I think guys are trying too hard.

"Losing's old. It's old."

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