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Tampa Bay Rays blow lead to Los Angeles Angels, finish West Coast trip 1-5

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Rays walked out of Angel Stadium after Wednesday's 10-5 loss that completed a three-game sweep, concluding another road trip, this one 1-5, where the best thing they could say about it was that it was over.

Manager Joe Maddon can keep talking about winning another AL East title, as he did again Wednesday, and stars such as Carl Crawford can insist that with more than seven weeks to play they still have plenty of time.

But the reality is they're now 10 games behind the first-place Yankees with 48 left, and they're playing for the wild card, which isn't going to be easy. The Rays (61-53) are third in a three-team field, trailing Boston by 41/2 games and Texas by three.

And most concerning, at least in their road grays, they aren't playing like a team that's going to get there.

"It's this road thing, man, that's the annoying part of what we're doing," Maddon said. "We go home and get ourselves well and then we go away and we get sick again. We have to figure that part out."

At Tropicana Field, where they open a nine-game homestand with the struggling Blue Jays and Orioles then the wild-card-contending Rangers, the Rays are among baseball's best, with a 36-18 mark that ranks third. They get (some) clutch hits, they make key pitches, they win big games.

But out from under the slanted roof, they're not the same, with a 25-35 record and the second-largest home-road disparity in the majors, and a totally different look about them.

"If I had the magic potion, we just have to be a better road team the rest of the way," Maddon said. "There's no getting around it."

Whatever the great mystery, they make more mistakes and they're hurt more by them.

Wednesday, facing callup L.A. starter Trevor Bell, who was most known for being the grandson of TV's Bozo the Clown and being the first Angel to wear Maddon's old No. 70, they took a 4-2 lead into the sixth.

They got another solid effort from rookie starter Jeff Niemann and a pair of home runs from Carlos Peña, who has hit five in his past six games to reclaim the AL lead with 31. And they weathered another inexcusable fielding miscue, as a popup — though high into a brutally tough sky — dropped between shortstop Jason Bartlett and leftfielder Crawford for an RBI triple.

But then, as they've done too many times before, they gave it away — again.

Niemann left after allowing a pair of one-out singles in the sixth (and surpassing the 100-pitch mark), and the game changed when reliever Grant Balfour — whose fastball is overwhelmingly his best pitch — gave up a two-out, three-run homer to No. 8 hitter Gary Matthews on a curveball called by catcher Dioner Navarro.

"I don't know if it was, you know … I don't know it if was what … that's maybe the problem there, maybe I wasn't totally committed to that pitch," Balfour said.

"I'm not going to sit here and go back on it. I got the sign, I threw it, I didn't feel too bad, but I definitely didn't bury it, and I got hurt with that."

Maddon called the three-run homer, which put the Angels up 5-4, both the turning point of the game and "probably the last thing you expected to happen" as it was only Matthews' third of the season.

It got worse in the seventh as Bartlett made another miscue and Dan Wheeler allowed another unlikely three-run homer, to Howie Kendrick.

But that's the way it has been going, and they're going to have to do something about it.

"We have a great team, and that's why it hurts us," Peña said. "We obviously know that we're capable of more."

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

Angels 10

Rays 5

fast facts

Nothing like home

The Rays have the second-largest home-road discrepancy in the majors:

Teamhome%road%diff.

Tigers36-18.66723-36.390.277

Rays36-18.66725-35.417.250

Giants39-20.66123-32.418.243

Orioles29-28.50918-39.316.193

Cubs33-21.61125-33.431.180

Tampa Bay Rays blow lead to Los Angeles Angels, finish West Coast trip 1-5 08/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 13, 2009 6:34am]
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