The third baseman's error sparks a Toronto rally, and the starter blows two leads in 8-7 loss.
By JOHN ROMANO
© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 8, 2001
TORONTO -- There are many, many ways to lose a lead. A pitcher may fail to shut down the opponent. An offense might run itself out of opportunities to add runs. An infielder perhaps makes a critical error.
Of course, there is a more reliable and expedient way to lose a lead in 2001. Just hand one to the Devil Rays.
Not once, not twice, but three times the Rays lost leads Thursday, utilizing each of the aforementioned pratfalls. They also lost a chance for back-to-back wins for the first time since April. They lost any momentum rookie Joe Kennedy had provided Wednesday.
And, if you haven't caught on by now, they lost the game 8-7 to the Blue Jays, so they arrive home from their road trip having won two of nine games.
The Rays have lost a series for the 12th straight time, which is close to unprecedented these days. In the past decade, the only other team to lose more than 12 straight was the 1999 Cubs, who dropped 15 in a row.
"Baseball is crazy like that," third baseman Aubrey Huff said. "You're up one minute, and then it bites you the next."
Huff will be singled out -- and rightfully so -- for his two-out, eighth-inning error that led to Toronto's three-run, game-winning rally.
But if there is anything the Rays have learned from this season, it is how to share the blame. And there was plenty to go around.
Huff goofed on defense. Three Rays were thrown out attempting to steal a base. Esteban Yan blew his third straight save opportunity.
And, naturally, there is Bryan Rekar.
"He has to feel like he is snake bit," manager Hal McRae said.
Rekar, winless in 13 starts, has been the victim of poor run support, poor defense and poor relief work at various times this season. But on this day, Rekar was left blaming only himself.
In five innings of work, he gave up five runs and blew two leads his teammates had handed him.
"I pitched like (crud) today," Rekar said. "I didn't even deserve to be in the game."
Yet, when he left after five innings, Rekar had a 6-5 lead. And much of the credit goes to Huff.
Never considered a graceful player in the field, Huff made several fine defensive plays in the first seven innings.
"Huff probably played his best defensive game of the year," McRae said. "He looks like he's making progress. He was making plays today he wouldn't have made a month ago or six weeks ago."
Huff also had two doubles, scored two runs and drove in the go-ahead run with a single in the fifth.
And that will all be forgotten because of the slicing grounder Brian Simmons hit with two out and two on in the eighth that skidded past Huff's glove. One run scored on the error, and the Blue Jays took the lead seconds later when Shannon Stewart hit a two-run single off Yan.
"We battled hard all game, and to lose on something like that, it hurts a lot," Huff said. "It was hit well, but that was a ball that should have been caught, or at least knocked down."
After using Yan for two innings in Wednesday's 6-2 victory, McRae had planned on saving him for the ninth Thursday.
But rookie Travis Phelps, who struck out the side in the seventh, gave up two singles and the hard-hit grounder by Simmons. Needing just one out to survive the eighth, McRae turned to Yan.
After converting his first five save opportunities, Yan has blown three straight. And all three have cost Rekar a victory.
"It's my own fault that the game was that close anyway," Rekar said. "They gave me a big lead, and I couldn't hold on. So it's my fault for putting us in that position."
On a positive note, after going 12 games without scoring more than five runs, the Rays got six Wednesday and eight Thursday.
"I think we're starting to get back some confidence that we had obviously lost earlier in the season," centerfielder Jason Tyner said. "We just need to get a few more breaks."