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Loss can't dull Sorrento success

Designated hitter Paul Sorrento had a great game on a terrible day. He continued to show signs he is out of his early-season slump, going 4-for-5, hitting the first grand slam in team history and matching his career high with six RBI Sunday.

"I've felt more and more comfortable the past three, four games," Sorrento said. "I've been swinging the bat well.. "I got some good pitches to hit and I hit them. Last week I would have fouled them off."

Sorrento had been in a 5-for-33 slump, but homered in his last at-bat Saturday and went 4-for-5 Sunday, raising his average to .253. After getting just four hits in his first 31 at-bats with runners in scoring position, he delivered three times Sunday.

"It's just disappointing because obviously you'd hope it's in a win," Sorrento said.

Manager Larry Rothschild said he was encouraged. "He swung the bat really well," he said. "You can't ask for much more than he did today."

The grand slam was Sorrento's eighth, and his seventh since the start of the 1995 season. Only Albert Belle, with eight, has more in that period.

TEAM HISTORIAN: Sorrento has a knack for stadiums and history. On May 9, 1995, with the Indians at the time, he hit the first grand slam at Jacobs Field, off Kansas City's Doug Linton. On April 8, 1992, he got the first hit at Camden Yards (off Rick Sutcliffe) and hit the first home run there (off Bob Milacki). Media relations manager Andrew Maraniss retrieved Sorrento's home run, promising a young Indians fan the Rays would send him some autographed items. The ball landed in the bullpen, and one of the Rays flipped it into the stands.

RELAXED: Rookie starter Jason Johnson was much more relaxed than in his previous two outings. Johnson, who had walked eight in 9 innings, didn't walk a batter in 4 innings but did allow eight hits, including two homers. "I got my control back," he said, "but I left two balls up in the zone, and they hit two home runs."

NEW LOOK: Rothschild moved Dave Martinez into the leadoff slot and dropped Quinton McCracken to second to exploit McCracken's hot bat. His .333 average ranks second and his 13 RBI third on the team. He is second in the league with 14 multihit games. "I wanted to get someone on base in front of him so his hits become more productive," Rothschild said. "Dave gets on base a lot, has a good on-base percentage, and he runs well. And with Mike Kelly hitting third, we have a lot of speed at the top of the order." The three combined for six hits and were on base nine times. Look for the experiment to continue.

15 SECONDS OF FAME: The Rays have been hurt by their share of opponents. On Sunday, 17-year-old ballboy Colin Braun almost did them in. McCracken was on first with one out in the third when Kelly laced a ball that landed just over third base and skipped toward the leftfield corner. Third-base umpire Ed Hickox called it fair, but Braun thought it was foul and picked it up, making the ball dead. Kelly was on second and McCracken rounding third, but the umpires wouldn't let McCracken score. Rothschild argued, to no avail. "There's no question he would have scored," Rothschild said. Sorrento's grand slam made the point moot.

MEDICAL REPORT: Wade Boggs, recovering from a strained right calf, could be activated Friday. RHP Rick Gorecki felt stiffness in his right shoulder and will back off from throwing for a few days. "He's at least a couple weeks away," Rothschild said. OF Rich Butler, out since being hit on the hand by a pitch Thursday, pinch hit Sunday (striking out) and could be back in the lineup Tuesday.

RAYS WRAP-UP: The third-inning homers by Sorrento and Bobby Smith, on consecutive pitches by Charles Nagy, were the team's first back-to-back. After being swept in one of their first seven series, the Rays have been swept in three of the past four.

_ MARC TOPKIN

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