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Devil Rays return Indians' gifts

The Devil Rays played a game of give-and-take with the Indians on Friday night.

The Rays didn't take what the Indians offered, failing to score after loading the bases twice in the first three innings. When they did break through with four runs in the fourth, they gave it right back, giving up five in the bottom of the inning.

The result was a frustrating 7-5 loss and a quick end to the joy they felt Thursday in halting their six-game losing streak.

The Rays have lost nine of their past 11 games and continue to struggle offensively, leaving eight men on base. They dropped to 12-15, matching their low point of the season at three games under .500. And they fell 7{ games behind the AL East-leading Yankees, their largest deficit.

The Indians had been struggling too, losing two straight to Oakland and 11 of 17 after an 8-1 start. But the defending American League champions still pose an imposing threat, and they had 42,712 cheering fans backing them on a soggy night at Jacobs Field. The game was delayed 62 minutes by rain in the middle of the eighth inning.

"You're going to be tested in all kinds of ways," Tampa Bay manager Larry Rothschild said before the game. "You like to see how you match up against the better teams. Go through the roster, and it's a well-balanced team, as well-balanced as there is.

"They've got power, they run the bases aggressively, they play very good defense. They've got good pitching, especially in the bullpen. And they've got quality starters also."

The Rays came into the game a bit battered. Outfielder Rich Butler was out with a bruised hand and Dave Martinez was supposed to be resting a sore shoulder, but was pressed into action as the designated hitter when first baseman Fred McGriff was sidelined with gastritis.

Starter Dennis Springer was coming off two solid outings, but the knuckleballer struggled Friday, walking five and allowing six hits. He had men on base in each inning and didn't make it out of the fourth after giving up a three-run homer to Travis Fryman and doubles to David Bell and Omar Vizquel. Springer threw 75 pitches, 42 for balls.

The Rays, who scored more than three runs just once in the previous seven games, got off to a disturbing start Friday.

In the second, Jerome Walton and Mike DiFelice singled and Kevin Stocker worked a two-out walk, but Miguel Cairo slapped at the first pitch and grounded out.

The next inning started when Quinton McCracken doubled and Martinez walked. Mike Kelly was unable to get a bunt down and struck out. After Paul Sorrento moved the runners up with a right-side grounder and Walton walked, Bobby Smith ripped a sinking liner to right that Manny Ramirez caught on the full run.

The Rays finally broke through with four runs in the fourth, their most prolific inning since the fifth April 23 in Texas, a span of 70 innings.

The big hits were a triple by McCracken, a double by Sorrento and a two-run single by Kelly. But Stocker made pretty good contact too.

Stocker was on first with a leadoff single when Cairo hit what appeared to be a made-to-order double-play grounder to third. Fryman threw to second for the first out, but Stocker slid hard and upended second baseman Bell, forcing him to throw wild to first. Cairo ended up at second on the error.

McCracken tripled down the rightfield line to drive in Cairo, the team's first RBI in more than 26 innings. Martinez was intentionally walked and Kelly singled to right hard enough that the lackadaisical Ramirez misplayed it, allowing Martinez to score. Sorrento, continuing to show signs he is coming out of his slump, doubled in Kelly.

Colon, though, survived the shaky start to win. After the fourth, he allowed one baserunner in the next three innings. He needed six pitches to get through the fifth.

The Indians hit the ball hard and far in their fourth, taking a 5-4 lead and ending Springer's night. With one out, Jim Thome and Brian Giles (who missed a home run by inches on a foul ball) singled. Then Fryman, in a 2-for-20 slump, crushed a 2-and-0 pitch 419 feet into the leftfield seats, his first home run since April 4 and third overall.

Springer hit Pat Borders _ with a knuckler, in the back _ then Bell drove a ball to deep center that appeared to glance off McCracken's glove and fell for a double. Vizquel lined a two-run double to right.

Cleveland added to the lead in the sixth off reliever Dan Carlson with just one hit. Giles walked, went to second on Fryman's single and third on Borders' bunt and scored on Bell's foul flyout to right, sliding in ahead of Kelly's throw.

Stocker homered off Eric Plunk in the eighth.

Rays reliever Roberto Hernandez walked three in the ninth and has 16 walks in 11 innings.