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This can't be for real

The Rays visit the slumping Blue Jays and prove good for what ails them, falling 13-1.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 6, 2001


photo
[AP photo]
Albie Lopez heads to the dugout while being roughed up again: 8 runs, 7 earned, in 5 innings.
TORONTO -- They had us fooled for a short time, but they went too far.

The secret to any good scam is subtlety, and the Rays have lost sight of that. This ploy of theirs is beginning to wear thin.

C'mon, no team can be this bad.

So lose the sham and identify this for what it really is:

The anti-contraction tour.

That John McHale Jr. is a shrewd fella. What better way to avoid contraction than to convince opponents to keep you on the schedule? The Rays are to the major leagues what Northeastern Louisiana is to Division I football.

Take Tuesday night's 13-1 loss to Toronto, a team that had lost five in a row before the Rays came to town.

Think Esteban Loaiza wants to see the Rays disbanded?

He was 0-4 with a 7.12 ERA in May, but he threw eight innings of one-run ball against Tampa Bay.

Think Darrin Fletcher wants to see the Rays go belly-up?

He was in a 2-for-24 slump before hitting a home run and a single and driving in four runs.

"It was one of those nights where you get handily beat," manager Hal McRae said. "We didn't do anything."

McRae, against all odds, has not let the mounting losses change his outwardly calm demeanor. He said he has no other choice.

"You can rant and rave, but you can't do it every day. Nobody wants to hear it every day," McRae said. "So you try to create an environment where something good can happen. The players can't hate to come to the ballpark, so what we must do is try to play through it and overcome it."

The Rays' six-game losing streak has encompassed three cities, two countries and one lingering migraine. The average margin of defeat has been 10-3.

And so Tampa Bay remains on pace to set an American League record with 119 losses in a season.

"Any time you go through something like this, you're going to have your rough times," second baseman Damian Rolls said. "But at the same time, this is what we grew up playing. This is what we grew up to become. We wouldn't be here if we didn't love this game. I guarantee you, every player in here comes to the park thinking we're going to win. Things just aren't going our way."

Even when the Rays see a glimmer of hope, it quickly is stomped on.

Ace Albie Lopez, finally feeling healthy after a month of nagging aches and pains, is hitting 95 mph on the radar gun and looking like his old self.

So he gives up a first-inning run on a fluke broken-bat double. That's a bad break. So he gives up a 413-foot, two-run homer to Carlos Delgado. Plenty of other pitchers have been hurt by Delgado.

Lopez still could have escaped the day feeling good about his arm. Instead, he goofed with his glove.

The Rays were trailing 3-0 and Lopez had one out and one on in the fifth. Brad Fullmer hit a high chopper that Lopez caught behind the mound. He had plenty of time to catch Fullmer at first, but he hurried an off-balance throw, and it sailed over Fred McGriff's head.

Seemingly unnerved, Lopez walked Jose Cruz, then gave up a double to Tony Batista and a three-run homer to Fletcher. In a matter of minutes, a manageable game had become completely unmanageable.

"I killed myself with the error. If I made that play, it would have been two outs," Lopez said. "I let myself get out of control and that's not my game. ... It cost me."

Lopez has a career-high six-game losing streak and joins teammates Paul Wilson and Bryan Rekar, along with the Rangers' Rick Helling and the Orioles' Jose Mercedes, with the most losses in the league at seven.

"His velocity was back to where it was when he was pitching well," McRae said. "So that was encouraging for him."

The only other encouraging note was Greg Vaughn's two-out, opposite-field single to drive in a run in the eighth.

That run kept the Rays from suffering the most lopsided shutout in team history.

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