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Sorrento stays hot, Rays top Royals

Slugger homers, drives in four runs to power a 7-6 victory on the road.

This Paul Sorrento guy? There might be something there with him playing first base.

Continuing a hot streak that is not merely coincidental with his return to his natural position, Sorrento rapped four hits, including a three-run home run, to lead the Devil Rays to a closer-than-needed 7-6 victory over Kansas City on Thursday.

It was a game _ despite Sorrento's heroics _ that the Rays seemed destined to give away. They squandered opportunities while creating too many for the Royals early, then got sloppy in the field late, especially during a three-run Kansas City eighth.

"If I described this _ I guess it's a baseball game _ to you, your whole column would be blanked out because I could puke watching this game tonight," said Larry Rothschild, who led the winning team. "It was just a sloppy game all the way around. It was not a well-played game."

Once again, it wasn't until Roberto Hernandez got the final out, with the tying run on first, that victory was secured. It was their 22nd one-run win of the season, and just the second time they won the opening game of a road trip.

Already having blown two leads, the score was tied 3-3 when Dave Martinez singled with one out in the sixth and Jose Guillen reached when second baseman Carlos Febles booted what looked like an inning-ending double-play grounder.

Sorrento worked rookie Dan Reichert to a 3-and-2 count, then crushed a slider an estimated 371 feet to rightfield. It was the Rays' 112th homer, surpassing last season's total.

Sorrento had four hits, and, with a run-scoring single in the fourth, finished with a season-high four RBI. He also started the rally that led to the Rays' final run with a two-out single in the eighth.

Sorrento had his most productive seasons playing first base regularly in Seattle, piling up 23 homers and 93 RBI in 1996 and 31 homers and 80 RBI the next season. The Rays signed him as a free agent before the 1998 season, but having already acquired Fred McGriff to play first, used Sorrento primarily as a DH, then converted him to the outfield this year.

But with McGriff limited to DH duties because of a strained left quadriceps, Sorrento has hit .361 during the past 10 games, .529 (9-for-17) with three homers in his past five.

"The last week and a half has been fun, getting to play some first every day. It's been great," Sorrento said.

"But I can't think about it that way because I know eventually I'm not going to be over there once Freddie gets back to 100 percent. It's something I thought I kind of let beat me last year to where DH-ing was kind of frustrating. But once Freddie comes back, I'm going to have to do that, and once Jose (Canseco) comes back, I don't know where I'll be."

Thursday, the Rays were glad Sorrento was in the lineup. Especially because they kept wasting opportunities to put the game away against Reichert. They had the first two men on in the first, second and fourth innings, but netted three runs. They had 12 hits and three walks, but left eight on.

"He gave us opportunity after opportunity and we just didn't capitalize on it," Rothschild said.

Bobby Witt went six somewhat rocky innings for the victory, his seventh, matching his 1998 total.

"I threw everything I had out there," Witt said. "I was fighting myself and I was fighting the umpire."

Leading 7-3 with one out in the eighth, the Rays started to get generous on their own. Albie Lopez gave up two singles, then reliever Norm Charlton allowed a run to score when he juggled then dropped a toss from Sorrento after a routine grounder.

With two outs, leftfielder Terrell Lowery charged in and lost Febles' sinking liner in the lights, the ball bouncing past him for a two-run triple.

"It was one of those balls you see for a while and then you can't see it anymore," Lowery said. "I can't explain the feeling. It's just tough."