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Slumping Tampa Bay Rays lose to Mariners in opening game of road trip

SEATTLE — They thought it would be good to get away, and they couldn't have gone farther, a 2,500-mile six-hour flight diagonally across the country. The air was crisp, the scenery splendid and the Safeco Field atmosphere as different as they could have hoped.

But the results for the Rays were very much the same Tuesday night, a 4-2 loss to the thus-far surprising Mariners, who are in first place in the American League West. The Rays, who are in last place in the AL East at 5-9, have lost six of their past seven and scored three or fewer runs in all six games.

"When we start hitting, everything will clear up,'' manager Joe Maddon said. "We just have not really put our game together yet. More than anything I think we have to be able to put our offense back in order.''

Certainly they missed B.J. Upton on Tuesday, as the key hit, a two-run triple by backup catcher Rob Johnson, went over the head of substitute centerfielder Gabe Kapler in the fourth. Kapler may play as shallow as Upton, as the Rays like, but he doesn't have the range, and it showed on what essentially was a deep fly ball.

Kapler admitted he had "a moment of hesitation" and "didn't get the cleanest break,'' though Maddon also blamed starter Andy Sonnanstine for hanging a breaking ball on 1-and-2. "That should not happen with two strikes,'' Maddon said. "It's just a lack of execution.''

Two batters later, Yuniesky Betancourt drove another ball beyond Kapler's reach, a triple to left-center that made it 4-2. And two batters after that, Kapler had to make a long run and stretched out fully to catch Endy Chavez's drive for the final out.

"We got beat twice there, that's part of our defense," Maddon said.

But Upton alone isn't enough to fix the offense, which continues to putter along, going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and striking out 10 more times. While the Rays have scored 42 runs in their five wins (8.4 per game), they've totaled just 22 in their nine losses (2.4).

"That's all you can say, that we're in a little bit of a funk,'' Carl Crawford said. "We still have a good team, we just have to wait for guys to get hot.''

The Rays scored two in the first on a leadoff walk by Jason Bartlett, a one-out double by Evan Longoria to deep left and a two-out single up the middle by Pat Burrell off Mariners lefty Jarrod Washburn, a favorite of Maddon when both were with the Angels, but that was about it.

The Rays had two on with one out, and the bases loaded with two outs, in the fourth but didn't score. Same in the seventh, when Kapler led off with a double, and the eighth, when Carlos Peña, whose 12-game hitting streak ended, drew a one-out walk and moved up on a wild pitch.

Sonnanstine remains winless after working six innings, allowing four runs (three earned, the other the result of his throwing error) and six hits while striking out seven.

"I felt great,'' Sonnanstine said. "I felt like my slider was the best it's been in a really long time.''

His downfall was the fourth inning when he allowed three runs, hitting a batter and giving up a single and the two triples. "Just some elevated balls that they hit hard,'' he said. "Just one inning when my control left me and the ball started to be up in the zone and they were hitting them pretty good. The other innings I was locating down. Just that one inning hurt pretty bad.''

Maddon agreed: "He just had one bad inning. The two-strike pitch to Johnson I know he'd like to have that one back, and of course Betancourt's. But the big play was Johnson hit — I think it was a 1-and-2 count and a hanging breaking ball, that really hurt. But we've got to score more runs. You can't blame the pitching, overall giving up four points, one bad inning, three runs. We had opportunities to score runs and didn't.''

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

Mariners 4

Rays 2

Slumping Tampa Bay Rays lose to Mariners in opening game of road trip 04/22/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 2:02am]
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