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Still on the skids

After a 6-3 loss to the Yankees extends two losing streaks, Albie Lopez sounds off on the Rays' bullpen woes: "It's killing us.''

[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Andy Sheets seems to levitate over second base in the fourth inning, after Tino Martinez broke up a double-play try for the Yankees.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 23, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The satisfaction Albie Lopez felt Friday about his best start in nearly two months was abated by the reality of the situation.

It wasn't that he extended his losing streak to nine, the longest in the AL in nearly two years, or that the Rays lost their seventh game in a row, this one 6-3 to the Yankees, and dropped to 21-51, making them a mind-boggling 30 games worse than .500 by the second day of summer.

What Lopez was upset about was how it happened. How for the third time in four games a quality effort by a starting pitcher wasn't enough. How the team's glaring lack of dependable late-inning relievers has put what he said was an unfair burden on the starters because they have to work deeper into the games.

"It's killing us," Lopez said. "We're going out there for seven innings and doing our job. We're putting up quality starts, then we're going out there for the eighth inning and that's where we're giving up the extra run or two runs that's basically costing us the game instead of giving us a chance to win.

"It's unfair to the starters. To us it's not about not having a middle man. That has nothing to do with it. That's not our job. That's the manager's job, the manager's job and the GM's job, to find somebody."

Manager Hal McRae and the front office staff certainly appear to be trying, having used 17 relievers already, with rookies Victor Zambrano and Jesus Colome the latest to audition. But nobody has been consistently effective, and with closer Esteban Yan on the disabled list it won't be easier.

Lopez's point is this: Tuesday, Bryan Rekar held the Red Sox to three runs through seven innings, then gave up another in the eighth and the Rays lost 5-4. Wednesday, Ryan Rupe held the Sox to two runs through seven innings, then was responsible for two more in the eighth as the Rays turned a 2-2 tie into an 8-2 loss.

And Friday, Lopez held the Yankees to three runs (two earned) through seven strong innings, but put the first two Yankees on in the eighth and they both scored, widening a 4-3 deficit to 6-3.

"It's not right," Lopez said. "Most managers in the American League would say if you give me seven innings and three runs, you're doing your job. But for me to go out there and throw seven good innings, and then end up giving up five runs, then I didn't do my job."

Even under the circumstances, the Rays were pleased with what Lopez did Friday. He pitched markedly better than he had been, which is important to the Rays, who sorely need him to regain his ace status, and perhaps to the Yankees, who may be among the teams most interested in acquiring him, despite his 3-10 record.

"Albie threw threw the ball much better tonight," McRae said. "He looked like himself, and that is encouraging to the ballclub."

Lopez, who hasn't won since April 24, said the improved showing had nothing to do with his injuries or his arm or his mechanics. Instead, it was his attitude that needed adjusting.

"It was in my head, it was all mental," Lopez said. "What I was doing was I pressing, I was trying to do too much. I was trying to make the perfect pitch, trying to throw harder than what I'm supposed to be throwing. ... It helped me out tonight that I took a step back and I relaxed a little bit."

Lopez made only a few mistakes, though they cost him, as did a fourth-inning error by second baseman Damian Rolls. A fat first-pitch fastball to Shane Spencer turned into a two-run homer in the second, and a one-out walk to notoriously impatient Alfonso Soriano led to the go-ahead run in the fifth.

"Soriano, they said you can't walk the guy," Lopez said. "I did it twice."

The Rays, who got their runs on consecutive pitch home runs by Aubrey Huff and Steve Cox in the fourth, had basically one chance to tie the score. With two on and two out in the eighth, they sent Fred McGriff to pinch hit against relief ace Mariano Rivera. On the night his bobblehead doll was given out and he did not start because of a sore left hamstring, McGriff went down swinging, leaving most of the 24,718 fans shaking their heads.

"We did everything but win," McRae said.

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