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Tampa Bay Rays lose 5-1 to Baltimore Orioles to complete season-opening sweep

ST. PETERSBURG — The 0-3 record makes this officially the worst start in the Rays' 14-season history.

But the anecdotal evidence makes it worse.

They've already lost their biggest star, third baseman and No. 3 hitter Evan Longoria, for at least three weeks — and up to six — with an oblique strain, and they saw another key player, Johnny Damon, miss Sunday's game due to an injury caused by playing on the Trop turf.

Their supposedly potent offense has been abysmally absent, scoring three runs while posting 12 hits and a .132 average through the first 27 innings.

And their pitchers, albeit with a thin margin, have made major mistakes at pivotal points that proved costly, such as the seventh inning of Sunday's 5-1 sweep-clincher to the Orioles.

"It (stinks)," starter Wade Davis said.

"Definitely a tough start," centerfielder B.J. Upton said.

The Rays tried to mitigate the damage in several ways, pointing out that every team has a bad stretch and they are apparently just starting with theirs, and pointing to their 2008 World Series season, when they overcame extended injury absences by Longoria, Carl Crawford and then-All-Star Dioner Navarro.

But there is no debating the lost weekend has taken the edge off, and raised some doubts, about what they considered a season of intriguing possibilities.

"It's the beginning of the season," manager Joe Maddon said. "We lost three games. They played well. We didn't play poorly, they just outplayed us a little bit. Lot of games, lot of time to go, man. One hundred and sixty-two game schedule, a lot of things happen.

"I am not discouraged. I know it's going to be more difficult — I'm not delusional — but we can do this."

They'll have to do it for at least the next three weeks, and perhaps into mid May, without Longoria, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list after an MRI exam showed a strain of his left oblique. Sean Rodriguez and Felipe Lopez, who was called up before leaving for Triple-A Durham, will take his place in the field; Ben Zobrist may move into the No. 3 spot in the order.

"I don't think there's any reason to be unhopeful at this point," Longoria said. "We're only three games into the season, so we still have a long road ahead. There's no reason for me to hang my head; the guys will pick me up, I'm sure of that."

Upton said the experience of 2008 will help, at least for the handful of players who remain. "We've been here before," he said. "I think we'll handle it well. Some guys will step up and pick up the slack a little bit. I'm definitely expecting myself to. … As a whole, we'll pick it up and we'll find a way."

The first thing they need to do is start hitting, having been shut down and all but shut out by the admittedly impressive Orioles pitchers, with just one run each game (and Sunday's on a squeeze bunt). The Rays haven't held a lead, are 3-for-19 with runners in scoring position and have gotten 23 of 102 batters on base.

"When you only score one run a night it makes it very difficult to win," Maddon said.

The lack of offense has increased the pressure on their relatively young pitching staff, and thus far that hasn't worked out too well, either.

Saturday, it was rookie reliever Jake McGee giving up a three-run homer in the eighth to Brian Roberts to snap a scoreless tie. Sunday, a 1-1 game quickly became 3-1 when Davis, he of the 35 previous career starts and new $35.1 million contract, allowed four hits (and got an out) in his first 14 pitches of the seventh, a two-run double by J.J. Hardy on a misplaced fastball the key blow.

"Just the wrong pitches to the wrong people at the wrong time," Davis said.

For the Rays, that's pretty much how the whole opening weekend went.

Wrong.

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

.fast facts

Follow-up flop

The Rays are the seventh defending division champ to start a season at least 0-3 since the current format was adopted in 1994:

TeamStartFinish

'11 Rays0-3??-??, ?

'07 Cards0-378-84, 3rd

'03 Braves0-3101-61, 1st

'01 Cards0-393-69, 2nd

'97 Cards0-673-89, 4th

'96 Indians0-399-62, 1st

'96 Red Sox0-585-77, 3rd

Source: Rays, Times research

Tampa Bay Rays lose 5-1 to Baltimore Orioles to complete season-opening sweep 04/03/11 [Last modified: Monday, April 4, 2011 8:10am]
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