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Zaun grand slam leads Blue Jays over Rays

TORONTO — The contrast in emotions was obvious. Not just as the Rays went from the verge of a remarkable win to the reality of a stunning 13-inning walkoff loss, but also from the sullenness of their clubhouse to the celebration in Arlington, Texas, where Red Sox players gathered around the big-screen TV and jumped up cheering at the outcome.

The Rays lost, again, this time 7-4 Saturday when Gregg Zaun hit a grand slam off Troy Percival with two outs. It was their fourth loss in five September games, though they maintained a 2½-game American League East lead over the Red Sox, who lost later.

It was the kind of loss, given all the Rays did earlier — a three-run rally in the ninth off closer B.J. Ryan, a game-saving play by shortstop Jason Bartlett in the bottom of the inning, a hard-earned go-ahead run in the 13th — that could be staggering.

And with a three-game, potential lead-changing series at Boston opening Monday, one that the Rays must prove today won't be the case.

"You're going to lose games like this," manager Joe Maddon said. "You've got to come back tomorrow. That's why it's 162, and that's why they call it a grind.

"Sometimes you get your heart broken for about 30 minutes. But you've got to put it back together, come back tomorrow and play another game, and that's what we'll do."

The Rays (85-55) have bounced back from several tough losses and rebounded from a seven-game pre-All-Star break skid to post the majors' best record over the next 45 games. But now it's September, and everything — good and bad — is magnified.

"We know we've got a big series coming up, but we can't look past (today's) game," Bartlett said. "We have to come out of here with a W."

For a while, it looked as if they would Saturday. Down 3-0 with three outs left, they rallied impressively, with Rocco Baldelli hitting a two-run pinch-hit homer, Fernando Perez stealing a base and Dioner Navarro delivering him with a sharp grounder that was scored an error.

Bartlett kept it going by diving far to his right to smother Zaun's grounder that looked like a winning run-scoring single, then gathering himself and catching runner Scott Rolen, who took too wide of a turn at third.

Perez was key again in the 13th, hustling to first after Baldelli's leadoff single to prevent the Rays' sixth double play, then going to second on a grounder, stealing third and scoring on Navarro's single.

But Percival wasn't able to hold it. He gave up two one-out singles (one he rued on an 0-and-2 pitch) and with two outs, having "lost" his release point, loaded the bases with a foretelling four-pitch walk. He had the same problem on the first pitch to Zaun — "I was trying to go fastball away and pulled it across the plate" — and it was a painful mistake, the ball carrying just beyond Baldelli's reach from atop the rightfield fence.

"We're up by a run and we feel like we're going to win the game," Baldelli said, "and five seconds later after it goes over the fence, it's just a huge swing in emotions."

Some Rays talked about how tough a loss it was, others suggested they were spoiled by their run of fantastic finishes. "Everyone is so used to us getting the clutch hits all the time and holding the other team down, but we're human," Bartlett said. "It's going to happen."

Navarro pointed out they are still in first place, and Percival reminded that it's who is on top at the end that counts (though he also mentioned the wild-card race).

All agreed it's what happens next that matters most.

"We've come too far," Navarro said. "We know what we've got to do."

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

Blue Jays 7

Rays 4

13 innings

>>FAST FACTS

Familiar sinking feeling?

Manager Joe Maddon said there is no comparison of the Rays' current skid to their seven-game losing streak before the All-Star break. "Those games we were pretty much not playing well," he said. "(Now) we've been playing pretty good and lost." The results, however, have been similar:

Then

Date Outcome Pl. GB

7-7 Loss to Royals 7-4 (10) 1 +4

7-8 Loss to Yankees 5-0 1 +3

7-9 Loss to Yankees 2-1 (10) 1 +2

7-10 Loss to Indians 13-2 1 +1.5

7-11 Loss to Indians 5-0 1 +1.5

7-12 Loss to Indians 8-4 1 +.5

7-13 Loss to Indians 5-2 2 -.5

Now

9-2 Loss to Yankees 7-2 1 +4

9-3 Loss to Yankees 8-4 1 +3

9-4 Win over Yankees 7-5 1 +3.5

9-5 Loss to Jays 6-4 1 +2.5

9-6 Loss to Jays 7-4 (13) 1 +2*

* Pending Boston game

Zaun grand slam leads Blue Jays over Rays 09/06/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 8, 2008 9:59am]
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