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Rays look flat again

With opportunities to spare, Tampa Bay comes up empty in a 2-1 loss to the Yankees, its season-high eighth straight.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 24, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- For a while, they got off track.

A week of all-around good baseball. Five wins out of six, including a sweep of the first-place Phillies. Some legitimate thoughts that they'd turned things around.

Now, the Rays are back to their old selves.

They've lost a season-high eight straight, the latest Saturday in a 2-1 defeat to the Yankees. They've re-established themselves as the worst team in the majors. And they're just about on pace to liven up the summer by making a run at history, chasing the 1962 Mets' 120-loss record of futility.

What happened during that brief spurt was they weren't doing the little things necessary to lose games. Like having a pinch-runner picked off first in the seventh inning with the score tied. Like stranding seven men in scoring position. Like going 0-for-5 with men on third.

"There's no logic to it," Randy Winn said. "It seems like it's something different every night."

photo
[Times photo - Michael Rondou]
Rays second baseman Damian Rolls makes a throw from his back after fielding a ball deflected by first baseman Steve Cox into short right field during Saturday's loss to the Yankees.
The Rays had a chance to end the streak by beating the Yankees and Roger Clemens before a spirited Tropicana Field crowd of 27,816. Actually, they had several.

They had the bases loaded with two outs in the third, but Steve Cox grounded out sharply to first. They had men on second and third with one out in the fifth, but Clemens struck out Aubrey Huff and Ben Grieve. They had men on first and second with two outs in the eighth, but Ramiro Mendoza struck out Damian Rolls.

Their most promising opportunity, though, came in the seventh. Mike DiFelice, of all people, led off with a triple, his first in more than a year. Fred McGriff, limited to pinch-hit duties for a second straight day by a sore left hamstring, was unintentionally intentionally walked by Clemens, then replaced at first base by pinch-runner Andy Sheets.

The Yankees brought in lefty Mike Stanton to face leadoff man Jason Tyner, and Rays manager Hal McRae was encouraged by the possibilities. "I liked my chances there," he said.

But before Stanton ever threw a pitch, he threw the ball, at the suggestion of pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, to first, catching Sheets off guard and off the base.

"I wasn't going anywhere," Sheets said. "I just screwed it up. He got me. It can't happen."

Said Stanton, who has 28 career pickoffs: "Once you throw a couple pitches, everybody is back into the game a little more. It's a situation where we were trying to catch them off guard."

The Rays still had a shot to tie, but Tyner struck out on four pitches and Winn grounded to third. "We still had one out left to get a run without a base hit," McRae said, "and we should be able to execute 65-70 percent of the time in those situations."

The Rays took a 1-0 lead in the third when Felix Martinez was hit by a pitch, stole second and scored on Winn's two-out single to center. The Yankees tied it with Scott Brosius' fifth-inning homer off Joe Kennedy -- "Pretty much a batting practice fastball," Kennedy said. They went ahead in the seventh when Jorge Posada singled off Jeff Wallace, went to third on Tino Martinez's double and scored when the Rays kept the middle infielders back to protect against a big inning and Brosius grounded to second.

"If they score one we get out of the inning and we've got nine outs to score," McRae said. "I thought we could score, and that's why I played the middle back."

Kennedy, the 22-year-old rookie left-hander, looked strong through six innings, allowing just three hits and the run. But McRae, who was criticized by starter Albie Lopez on Friday for leaving the starters in too long, took Kennedy out after 99 pitches, saying he was losing velocity.

"He's one of the guys we don't want to baby him, but spoon-feed him some, gradually build him up to carry a heavier load," McRae said. "But this isn't the time to do that. That's for the other guys."

The losing streak is the longest of the season and the third longest in the team history. The Rays are 31 games under .500, 22 1/2 out of first and 13 1/2 behind fourth-place Baltimore, and the season is not even half over.

"It's always frustrating when you lose," Cox said. "When you keep losing it's even more frustrating."

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