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Saunders fades in fifth

Published Sep. 13, 2005

What do you say to the pitcher who gets no run support and loses a one-run game?

"Sorry, pal, tough luck!"

Now, what do you say to the pitcher who cruises with a five-run lead, then sees his chance of victory evaporate into Tropicana Field's controlled air?

"What more do you want, baby?"

Maybe Devil Rays starter Tony Saunders (1-2) has an answer. Maybe not.

After holding the Oakland A's hitless through the first two innings and scoreless into the fifth, the Rays' top pick in the expansion draft appeared to develop a mechanical problem. He wound up surrendering five runs on five hits and five walks and bowed out with no chance of getting the win.

"I had to take him out in the fifth inning," manager Larry Rothschild said. "That's not a strong game to me. With a 5-0 lead going into the fifth, I would have looked for a little more out of him."

The A's scored twice in the ninth to win 7-6.

"He was looking very sharp at first and getting everything over," A's manager Art Howe said. "Then we put some things together, got a little patient and that was that."

Added the A's Jason Giambi, whose fifth-inning single scored two runs: "At first, nobody on this team had really seen him, and he was throwing well. We had a real hard time figuring him out at the beginning of the game. But maybe he tired a little bit. Maybe that's why he was getting the ball up in the zone."

Rays catcher John Flaherty said Saunders' problem was mechanics, not fatigue.

"I know he was not tired because he was throwing real well," Flaherty said. "But there was a mechanical problem with his delivery. I really don't know how that happens."

Saunders, who was making his fifth start, simply may have thrown too many pitches. In five innings, Saunders logged 101 pitches (59 for strikes).

Was 101 too much?

"I don't know, you just have to ask him," Rothschild said. "He doesn't need any sympathy."

Saunders left without talking to the media.

The former Florida Marlin dominated early. He retired the side in the first and had his first lead in the bottom of that inning thanks to Fred McGriff's two-run homer.

The hard work began in the third. Saunders gave up his first hit, a single to Scott Spiezio, then walked catcher Mike Macfarlane. He struck out Ryan Christenson but walked Rickey Henderson.

He got out of the inning by striking out Kurt Abbott and forcing Ben Grieve to fly to left.

McGriff gave the Rays _ and Saunders _ a healthy five-run lead in the third when he hammered a Mike Oquist pitch into the left-centerfield stands for a three-run homer.

But after a scoreless fourth, Saunders' anguish came to life as the A's sent nine to the plate.

"The only thing I could see was a difference in his arm," Flaherty said. "I don't know if he was dropping down or what the problem was, but he just seemed to have a mechanical flaw and had a tough time getting out of it. We tried to slow him down but it just didn't seem to work."