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Again, Rays let win slip away

Two throwing errors in the ninth inning allow Kansas City to score the two winning runs.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 3, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- The Devil Rays didn't do a very good job attempting to win Saturday's game against the Royals. But they were pretty darn effective in giving it away.

They blew a four-run lead, gave up a run on a wild pitch, hit into three double plays and made four errors, including two in the decisive ninth, losing 7-5 in yet another game they should have won.

"It's kind of sad to lose on errors, and I was a big part of that inning," closer Roberto Hernandez said, "but we had plenty of opportunities to bury these guys and put them away and we didn't."

So far, it hasn't been much of a holiday weekend for the Rays. They played poorly on Friday, losing 9-5, and were even worse on Saturday before an announced 23,129 at Tropicana Field. After going five games without an error, they made seven in less than 24 hours, the sloppiest two-game stretch in team history.

"We gave away the last two games, and that's a shame," manager Larry Rothschild said. "It's not just the errors. We've made more mistakes the last two days than just show up as errors on the scoreboard."

Officially, the Rays lost Saturday's game in the ninth, when the Royals took advantage of throwing errors by catcher Mike DiFelice and Hernandez to score two runs, but there were precursors of trouble.

They built a 4-1 lead in the fourth, but wasted opportunities to add on, Fred McGriff and Aubrey Huff grounding into costly double plays. They had a 5-3 advantage after five innings, but lost starter Bryan Rekar because of a blister and lost the lead when Trevor Enders had a rough big-league debut, allowing three of the four batters to reach, though a questionable call at first base didn't help. They were robbed of a chance to go ahead in the eighth when third baseman Joe Randa jumped high to snare a DiFelice drive.

"It felt like we were in control and then we start messing around and giving away runs," DiFelice said. "We're not in a position where we can do that."

Wilson Delgado, whom Hernandez thought he'd struck out earlier in the at-bat, smacked a double to left-center to open the ninth. "(Home-plate umpire Marty Foster) had a pretty fair strike zone until that at-bat," Hernandez said.

After Johnny Damon showed bunt, DiFelice threw behind Delgado at second, a ploy the Rays use often. But the ball bounced short of the bag and into the outfield, allowing Delgado to reach third. "The throw just happened to sink on me and it got away," DiFelice said.

"We've done that time and time again in the eighth and ninth inning; it's not a bad play," Rothschild said.

With no outs and the go-ahead run on third the Rays brought the infield in. Hernandez got one out when Damon grounded to short, and appeared to have another when he gloved pinch-hitter Dave McCarty's tapper.

But somewhere between catching the ball, checking the runner at third and throwing to first, he got out of sync. Instead of making an easy lob, he rushed and shot-put the ball wildly past first.

"I was just trying to get the ball to Fred as quickly as possible," Hernandez said. "I just threw it wrong."

Delgado scored and, compounding the problem, McCarty went all the way to third. Pinch-runner Carlos Febles scored on Mike Sweeney's sacrifice fly.

"It's a shame because he had a hell of a chance to get out of that inning if he just makes an easy throw right there," Rothschild said.

It was that kind of a day. The Rays might have had a chance to hold the lead if Rekar, who allowed four hits through five innings, didn't have the blister. Rekar didn't stick around after the game to discuss the problem.

They might have had another chance if Enders had better stuff, or luck, in the sixth, trying to protect a two-run lead. He allowed a leadoff single, then lost an out when first-base umpire Ron Kulpa ruled Bobby Smith didn't touch the base when covering first on a bunt. "That changed the whole ballgame," Smith said. "I had half my foot on the base."

Both runners ended up scoring as the Royals tied the score at 5.

It was a tough spot for Enders to make his debut, but the Rays don't have a lot of choices these days. "He gave me a chance and I basically didn't do my job," Enders said. "But you have to take the negatives and learn from them. Hopefully, I'll get another chance."

On this day, that's all any of them can hope for.

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