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Devil Rays take, then give away

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, allowing five runs 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.

"You'd like to be able to hold that lead," manager Larry Rothschild said. "We haven't been scoring a lot of runs, and to get four, and get them with two outs and everything "

The Rays have lost nine of their past 11 games. 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 game was delayed 62 minutes by rain in the middle of the eighth inning.

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 had 42,712 cheering fans backing them on a soggy night at Jacobs Field.

The Rays' problems were two-fold. They had scored more than three runs once in the previous seven games and weren't able to come up with the key hit to take advantage of their early opportunities against Bartolo Colon. For the night, they left nine on base, six in scoring position.

Then when they did score the four _ their most prolific outburst since the fifth inning April 23 in Texas, a span of 70 innings _ Dennis Springer came out and gave up five right away.

"You score four runs against this team and I can't get out of the inning. That's definitely frustrating," Springer said.

From there, the Rays managed just three hits against Colon and a trio of relievers, two leadoff singles and a home run by Kevin Stocker in the eighth. In the inning after Cleveland took the lead, the Rays went down 1-2-3 on six pitches.

"A team like that, when you jump on them you've got to hold them down," Dave Martinez said. "If we hold them right there, we win the game because they were kind of down."

The Rays came into the game a bit battered. Outfielder Rich Butler was out with a bruised hand, and Martinez was supposed to rest a sore shoulder but was pressed into action as the designated hitter when Fred McGriff was too sick to play after a test for an ulcer. (The test was negative, but he does have gastritis.) As a result, Rothschild had no left-handed pinch-hitters available.

There was little else to be encouraged about.

Springer was coming off two solid outings, but the knuckleballer struggled to find his form 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 a two-run double to Omar Vizquel. Springer threw 75 pitches, 42 for balls.

"I was just battling to get out of every inning," Springer said. "It wasn't moving a whole lot."

Closer Roberto Hernandez came in to pitch the eighth after the rain delay and struggled again, loading the bases on two walks and a single. Only a 6-2-3 double play and a strikeout prevented further damage. Hernandez has faced 60 batters and 28 have reached base.

And the offense had a chance to break out, but came up empty after loading the bases twice.

In the second, Miguel Cairo slapped at the first pitch and grounded out to end the threat. In the third, 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. The big hits were a triple by Quinton McCracken, a Paul Sorrento double and a two-run single by Mike Kelly. But Stocker made pretty good contact too, disrupting a potential double play with a hard slide at second, forcing David Bell to throw wild. 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.

But the first thing the Rays did after taking the 4-0 lead was hand it right back. "The timing of it is never good," Rothschild said.

The Indians hit the ball hard and far in their fourth to take a 5-4 lead. The big blow came from Fryman, who was in a 2-for-20 slump but crushed a 2-0 slider 419 feet into the leftfield seats.

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 then lined a two-run double to right.