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Rays find stranger method for losing

A collision in the outfield allows Toronto to rally from a 6-0 deficit.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2000


TORONTO -- When you lose 91 games in a season, there are going to be some painful defeats. But Saturday's 7-6 loss to the Blue Jays was one that truly hurt.

The game ended with Randy Winn writhing on the leftfield turf with an injured left forearm, Felix Martinez laying a few feet away with a bruised left thigh, and the ball, which moments earlier had been in Martinez's glove, rolling away as Tony Batista raced home with the winning run, ensuring all the Devil Rays would feel the pain of having blown a 6-0 lead.

"I would have to say that would be the exclamation point on the way things are going for us," catcher Mike DiFelice said. "It's unbelievable."

We'll start at the end, because that's what hurt the most, but there were some other twinges along the way.

The score tied at 6 in the ninth, the SkyDome crowd of 24,437 in full roar, rookie Trevor Enders walked Batista after two quick outs. Darrin Fletcher then blooped a ball into shallow leftfield that drifted toward the line, and that's when everything went wrong.

"No one was able to call it, it was in-between all of them," manager Larry Rothschild said.

Martinez and third baseman Russ Johnson went back as Winn came in. Winn called the ball at the last moment, giving Johnson warning to peel off, and attempted a sliding catch.

Martinez, who never heard him, kept going full speed and made a spectacular grab, something like a one-handed, back-hand shoestring grab. But a split-second later, Winn bounced up from the turf and collided forcefully with Martinez, knocking the ball loose and the game away.

"I had the ball," Martinez said. "It was a tough play. I don't know how the ball got out of my glove."

Worse, none of the three picked up the ball, allowing Batista to score unchallenged.

"I still think we had a play at the plate, but we had some more miscommunication between Felix and myself trying to get the ball," Johnson said. "It just wasn't a very good day for us."

Said Rothschild: "Everyone made an effort to try and catch the ball and when the collision happened the ball just rolled away and no one was there to stop it."

As odd of a way as it was for the game to end, there was a challenger for weirdest play of the day.

The Rays had raced to a quick 6-0 lead, riding a two-run homer by Fred McGriff and a three-run blast by Ozzie Timmons. But the Jays, battling for post-season life, came back.

They knitted together two runs in the fourth off Bryan Rekar, who left previous starts because of blisters and chest tightness and came out after five innings Saturday because of what Rothschild said was tightness in his elbow. The Jays were stirring again off reliever Doug Creek in the sixth when the Rays made a bizarre mistake.

Fletcher was on first when Jose Cruz lined a ball into the corner that came hard off the leftfield wall. With Fletcher looking like he'd stop at third, Winn made what seemed to be the right play, throwing the ball to second.

One problem -- there was no one there to catch it.

The Rays infielders played the ball as a "sure double" and were aligned for a throw home -- Martinez in short left as the cutoff man, second baseman Bobby Smith behind him in case of a bobble, McGriff at the mound.

The ball bounced to the stands, with Fletcher and Cruz scoring, and Shannon Stewart's home run one batter later made it 6-5.

"It's a tough play, a play you get caught in-between on," Rothschild said. "But you can't just blindly throw the ball."

Said Winn: "My mistake was that I didn't look first. I thought I had a shot (at getting Cruz out.) I was trying to make a play. I should have peeked first."

Tampa Bay still had a one-run lead, but ex-Ray Dave Martinez helped take care of that, delivering a key pinch-hit in a three-single, game-tying rally off Esteban Yan in the eighth.

It was the Rays' ninth walk-off loss of the season, and it was certainly one of the more painful trips.

"To have a freak thing like that (blooper) ... ," DiFelice said. "To have a freak thing like the ball thrown to second base. Is that a mental error, or just the way things are going? You know an outfielder knows where to throw the ball. It's just the way our season's been, and you've got to fight through it.

"It's just a shame a ballgame can end like that. A guy makes a good pitch, a guy hits a ball like that, a guy makes a great play to catch it and runs into everybody and the ball drops. Game over. That's frustrating. It's tiring. ... Things seem to find us."

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