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Rays primed, but not quite 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 _ revenge, controversy, pain and surprise.

Tampa Bay's Dennis Springer pitched seven impressive innings against his former teammates. Larry Rothschild was ejected for the first time as a manager, arguing a fifth-inning call at second base. Anaheim starter Jack McDowell was forced to leave after three innings with an elbow injury. He will have an MRI today in California.

And the Angels scored what proved to be the winning run in a most unlikely way _ the blazing speed of 261-pound designated hitter Cecil Fielder.

"Ain't that something?" Fielder said.

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

"We've got nothing to be ashamed of," Rays outfielder Dave Martinez said. "Sometimes you go out and score eight or nine runs and sometimes things just don't go your way. It was exciting. We just fell short."

The Rays, who had been off to the best start in expansion history, lost a season-high third straight and for the fifth time in six games. They were swept for the first time in a multi-game series and dropped to 11-11 on the season, marking the first time they haven't been above .500 since April 11.

Still, they say they are not worried. "It's not how many in a row you lose, it's how you bounce back," Springer said.

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, the Rays' first one-run loss, was tense throughout. Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead in the first on asingle by Fred McGriff. Anaheim tied it at 1 in the third on a home run by Jim Edmonds, who lost a homer Saturday when his ball struck the catwalk and bounced to the ground. And the Angels went ahead for good in the sixth when Damon Mashore drive in Fielder with a two-out single.

Omar Olivares (1-0) was the winner for 3 scoreless innings in relief of McDowell.

The Rays left nine on base and had a number of opportunities to score, perhaps none more promising than in the fifth.

With Miguel Cairo on first and one out, Martinez slapped a single to center and both runners tried to take an extra base when 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. Television replays showed that Martinez had his left foot hooked on the base.

Marty Foster, a Triple-A umpire filling in for Ted Hendry, however, called him out and Rothschild bolted from the dugout. He didn't say much, but it was obviously heartfelt and sincere because Foster tossed him almost immediately.

Foster said Rothschild cursed him, and the Rays manager didn't disagree. "I probably deserved it," he said. "I don't blame him for running me."

Rothschild watched the rest of the game on television in the clubhouse, but it was not nearly as entertaining to him as fans around the country.

The Angels scored what proved to be the winning run in the sixth. Fielder, their lumbering DH, blooped a ball over first and legged out a double. "I saw the ball flipping around over there and thought I'd give it a try," Fielder said. "I gave it a valiant effort to get there and it worked."

Then with two outs he raced, er, rumbled home from second on Mashore's bloop single, beating an off-line throw from centerfielder Quinton McCracken. "I had to go," Fielder said. "The man (third-base coach Larry Bowa) was waving me around, and I couldn't stop."

McCracken said a better throw might have got him, but Rothschild didn't think so. "You could have the best arm in centerfield you've ever seen and you wouldn't have thrown him out there," Rothschild said.

Springer dodged trouble early, loading the bases in the first, but settled into a groove after allowing Edmonds' homer to lead off the third, retiring nine straight. "I thought he pitched great," Rothschild said. "Obviously he deserved a better fate."

Springer gave up two runs on six hits. "It was a couple pitches here and there," Springer said.

The Rays won three of four from the Angels in Anaheim last weekend, but couldn't do much offensively in these three games. They scored just five runs on 22 hits, batting .239.

"At times they pitched well, but it's not all their pitching," Rothschild said. "It had something to do not with the way we went about it, but they capitalized on some mistakes we made offensively. They pitched some good games and we gave them the opportunity to pitch some good games. It was a combination."