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Weakened Rays finish a slumbering weekend

With its offense in the dumps, Tampa Bay falls 8-2 to Kansas City.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 4, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- By the time Sunday's game ended, Tropicana Field was so quiet you could hear a batting average drop.

They say good pitching will beat good hitting. Turns out, bad pitching will beat bad hitting too.

The Royals arrived in town with a pitching staff that ranked 29th out of 30 major-league teams in ERA. But they met their match in a Devil Rays team that is last in the American League in hitting.

The Royals beat the Rays 8-2 before an announced crowd of 16,998 to take three out of four in the series.

"Our offense struggled the whole weekend and probably made their pitching look better than it was," catcher John Flaherty said.

Tampa Bay's prospects do not get better today. The Rays are in Cleveland this afternoon, beginning a stretch of 26 games in a row against teams with records of .500 or better.

"Every day is tough," first baseman Fred McGriff. "It doesn't matter who you're playing."

The day got off to a poor start and got worse. After breezing through the first two innings, starter Dave Eiland was hammered in the third.

He gave up three consecutive hits and two runs to lead off the inning. If he could have limited the damage at that point, the Rays might have had a chance. But with two outs and the bases loaded, Eiland served up a grand slam to leftfielder Mark Quinn to make it 6-0.

"It was unacceptable. I beat myself," Eiland said. "I left some balls up, too many balls up. I beat myself. I made the mistakes. I am solely responsible for this loss today. It's all on me."

Make no mistake, the game was pretty much lost at that point. The last time the Rays scored more than five runs in a game was Aug. 21.

"When you get behind like that, you dig a hole that's tough to get out of," manager Larry Rothschild said. "You're hoping for a grand slam that gets you back to within two or three. When you have to do that, you've got problems."

Of course, Tampa Bay's problems extend beyond falling behind Sunday afternoon. The Rays were ahead on Saturday and still managed to lose.

At various points in the four-game series, Tampa Bay managed to showcase bad starting pitching, bad relief pitching, bad fielding and bad hitting. Otherwise, it wasn't such a bad weekend.

"Today's game was about getting behind early and not being able to do anything about it," Rothschild said. "That's why (Saturday's) game hurts. When you have a chance to win games, you have to win them. So when you have the occasional day like today, you can live with it.

"But we were pressing today because of what happened in the other game. It makes you see how precious it is to win a game when you have a chance."

The Rays had a chance or two to make it interesting, but never pulled it off. They had two men on in the sixth with one out, but did not score. They loaded the bases in the seventh with one out, but did not score.

The lack of power in the offense is becoming more noticeable by the day. The Rays have one home run in their past seven games. Even with the additions of Greg Vaughn, Gerald Williams and Vinny Castilla, the Rays are on pace to finish 13th in the league in home runs -- exactly where they were last year.

"We had situations where we could have gotten back into it," Rothschild said. "We just never capitalized on any of them."

After finishing August with a .500 record, the Rays have dropped three in a row to open September.

It is not a promising sign, considering the Rays have faded in September each of the previous two seasons. Their all-time winning percentage in September is .336, the worst month of the season.

"There aren't any easy teams out there," McGriff said. "We have to be ready to go every single day."

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