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Akinori Iwamura injured as Tampa Bay Rays lose to Marlins, ending three-game winning streak

MIAMI — Akinori Iwamura hobbled through the clubhouse on crutches, his left leg in a full brace after Sunday's game, exchanging words and seemingly goodbyes with teammates.

The intensity and grit the Rays showed before and especially after Iwamura's left knee was injured in Sunday's 5-4, 11-inning loss — taken out on a hard, though not necessarily untoward slide by Marlins rookie Chris Coghlan, an East Lake High product — will be needed as they face the possibility of being without their starting second baseman for an extended time.

"Seeing him walking around on crutches," first baseman Carlos Peña said, "I just don't like that at all."

Iwamura was driven back to St. Petersburg to have an MRI exam and be examined today by team orthopedist Koco Eaton. Iwamura said he was in considerable pain but didn't know the extent of the injury. The Rays said only they expect him to go on the disabled list, declining to offer official comment on the extent of the injury, but the buzz in the clubhouse wasn't promising.

"From what I heard, it's not very good," shortstop Jason Bartlett said. "He's not going to be back soon."

If so, Willy Aybar and Ben Zo-brist are the likely replacements.

The tough day got worse as the Rays (23-23) lost when Ross Gload singled in the winning run with one out in the 11th, but manager Joe Maddon found promise in the passion with which they've been playing.

"A lot of time out of adversity good things arise, and I think we're that kind of group that will take what appears to be a potential negative situation on the outside and turn it into something really good," he said. "I believe that."

Iwamura was injured in the eighth as the Marlins tried to break a 4-4 tie. Wes Helms grounded to the mound, and Dan Wheeler threw to second trying to force Coghlan and start an inning-ending double play (which they eventually got as Bartlett made a heads-up play, taking the ball out of Iwamura's glove and throwing home to nab John Baker).

Coghlan said he "felt awful" and walked to the Rays clubhouse to apologize in person to Iwamura, who said he appreciated the gesture. The 23-year-old rookie, called up May 8, told reporters he didn't do anything wrong.

"I don't think it was an illegal slide or anything like that. He just wasn't able to get up in time," he said. "I was just playing the game the right way. … I knew he was right close to the bag, so I knew I wasn't doing anything wrong."

The Rays didn't think Coghlan meant to hurt Iwamura but had different opinions on the slide, which was hard, a bit to the inside of second and more with the body than feet.

Iwamura had no problem with it, and Bartlett called it "a good baseball play," saying if a teammate had done it "I'd probably high-five him." Infield/third-base coach Tom Foley, whose sons played with Coghlan at East Lake, also considered it a clean play.

Maddon said "if anything, it might have been a little bit late." Peña seemed to have the biggest issue with it. "I didn't like it, but obviously I'm looking out for my guy," he said. "You could tell he had no malice in doing it, it just sucks after the fact. It's like maybe he should have gone right into the base … maybe he was a little late. It was not cool."

The Rays had battled back from a 3-0 deficit to tie in the sixth, then tied it again when Bartlett homered with two outs in the eighth. They had a chance in the ninth, but Zobrist struck out with the bases loaded.

And they tried to do what they could to stop the Marlins from scoring in the 11th. A leadoff single by ex-Ray Jorge Cantu, and another with one out by Jeremy Hermida, off lefty Brian Shouse put men on first and third. The Rays intentionally walked Hanley Ramirez to load the bases, brought in Zobrist to stage their five-man infield, even flip-flopped outfielders Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton to take advantage of Upton's stronger arm.

Gload, a former USF star, worked an excellent at-bat, lefty on lefty, fouling off three pitches before Shouse left one up and lining it just by Willy Aybar, who was playing halfway between first and second.

Their strategy didn't work, but Maddon said their effort could not have been better.

"They beat us in a hard-fought game, but our guys are playing with a lot of passion right now," he said. "And I love it."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Marlins 5

Rays 4

11 innings

Akinori Iwamura injured as Tampa Bay Rays lose to Marlins, ending three-game winning streak 05/24/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 25, 2009 5:33pm]
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