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Rays are primed but not ready

At least the Devil Rays restored some drama to prime-time television.

Making their first and only scheduled national television appearance of the season, the Rays lost 2-1 to Anaheim Sunday night.

The game, telecast by ESPN, had all the makings of must-see TV _ heroics, surprises, pain and controversy.

Tampa Bay's Dennis Springer pitched seven impressive innings against his former teammates. Larry Rothschild was ejected for the first time as a manager. Anaheim starter Jack McDowell was forced to leave after three innings with an elbow injury.

And the Angels scored what proved to be the winning run in the most unlikeliest of ways _ the speed of 261-pound designated hitter Cecil Fielder.

Doesn't that beat Apollo 13, Merlin, or Silk Stalkings?

The loss was the season-high third straight for the Rays, who have lost five of six. They dropped to 11-11 on the season, the first time they haven't been above .500 since April 10.

While the game was played before the Rays' largest television audience, the smallest crowd of the season, a disappointing 26,882, watched at Tropicana Field.

The game was tense throughout, as the Rays took a 1-0 lead in the first, Anaheim tied it at 1 in the third and took a 2-1 lead in the sixth. Omar Olivares (1-0) was the winner for 3 innings of scoreless relief.

The Rays, fighting a batting slump, got on the scoreboard right away. Leadoff man Quinton McCracken, who thought he had walked on a 3-and-1 pitch, instead drove McDowell's 3-and-2 pitch to the deepest part of centerfield for a double.

Miguel Cairo bunted him to third and, after a Dave Martinez walk, Fred McGriff continued his torrid April by delivering a run-scoring single to right.

McGriff, the Tampa native, came into the game hitting .348 overall and a sizzling .452 at Tropicana Field.

McDowell, who missed most of last season after elbow surgery, left after only three innings with pain in the elbow. An MRI is scheduled today in California.

A questionable call in the fifth inning cost the Rays a scoring opportunity and led to Rothschild's ejection.

With Cairo on first and one out, Martinez slapped a single to center and both runners tried to take an extra base when centerfielder Jim Edmonds' careless throw squirted through the infield.

Cairo made it easily to third and Martinez seemed to slide in safely ahead of Olivares' throw to second.

Umpire Marty Foster called him out and Roths-child raced from the dugout. He didn't have time to say much, but it must have been meaningful because Foster tossed him almost immediately.

Rothschild had been ejected at least twice before, once as a coach with Cincinnati and the other time as a minor-league instructor. Frank Howard managed the team in Rothschild's absence.

Springer (1-3) dodged trouble from the start, allowing the leadoff man to reach base in each of the first three innings.

He loaded the bases with one out in the first inning, on two singles and a throwing error by rookie third baseman Bobby Smith, but retired Garret Anderson on a popup and struck out Phil Nevin on a 3-and-2 pitch.

Springer worked out of a two-on, two-out jam in the second, but gave up a game-tying leadoff home run to Edmonds in the third.

It was sweet revenge for Edmonds, who hit a towering shot Saturday night that struck the catwalk over rightfield and resulted in only a double.

After that, Springer settled down and retired nine straight.

The Angels took a 2-1 lead in the sixth on a run generated by Fielder. The lumbering DH blooped a ball over first and legged out a double, then with two outs raced home from second on Damon Mashore's single, beating an off-line throw from McCracken.

Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina saved a run in the fourth. The Rays had runners on first and third with two outs when he dove far to his right, gloved Kevin Stocker's ball and fired to second for a forceout.

Before the game, all the talk was about the catwalks. Rays GM Chuck LaMar admitted concern over the frequency in which balls have hit the ring and said the ground rules could be changed, possibly this season.

"We're going to continue to review them," LaMar said before Sunday's game. "It's happened twice in three (homestands) with batted balls that were clearly hit as home runs. Whether it's our team or the other team if you have balls hit like that the situation has to be reviewed."

Based on the current rules, a ball that strikes the second or third catwalk is played based on where it comes down.

The most likely change to rules would be for any ball that strikes the second catwalk, which is more than 300 feet from home plate and about 150 feet high, in fair territory to be ruled a home run. "I don't know if there's any other option," Rothschild said. "I don't think a double is an option."