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A happy face on this? McRae's trying

Sometimes, maybe, it's just a matter of perspective.

The Rays lost a bad game Friday and a worse one Saturday, 10-2 to Montreal, to drop their post-All-Star break record to 1-2 and seemingly dissolve any optimism and enthusiasm generated by a string of competitive games and a big win in Thursday's second-half opener.

But compared to their 27-61 showing in the first half, manager Hal McRae said things really aren't so bad.

"It's a pretty good second half," he said. "We're 1-2. A heck of a second half.

"The first day I thought was important and we came out and we played well. We were outpitched the last couple of days and outhit the last couple of days, but it's not a disastrous start because we're 1-2. It doesn't look too bad. One game and we're .500. We don't have to double up to catch up. One win and we're even."

The Rays left Montreal on Saturday night and headed to Atlanta for a three-game series against the NL East first-place Braves, whom Tampa Bay has beaten exactly once in nine games.

And the way this crazy season is going, McRae said it might be the best thing for the team with the worst record in the game.

The Rays played some of their most competitive baseball during a 14-game stretch against AL East leaders Boston and New York, and last month they swept NL East leader Philadelphia, and McRae is expecting them to rise to the challenge again.

"I hope we do, and I think we will," McRae said. "It always seems like we've gotten up for the first-place teams, the teams with the reputation of doing good."

The Rays certainly can't look much less inspired than they did Saturday, falling behind early and never threatening before another scant Olympic Stadium gathering of 5,471.

Bryan Rekar gave up three runs in the first inning, then retired 12 of the next 13 batters, then gave up three more runs in the sixth, including back-to-back homers by Jose Vidro and Vladimir Guerrero for the second straight game, to drop to 1-11.

The Rays managed six singles and no runs in the first seven innings against Tony Armas.

And they made their obligatory defensive blunder, this one a misplay by rightfielder Ben Grieve that helped the Expos to their three-run first inning.

Basically, it wasn't much different than Friday, when Javier Vazquez shut them down in a 6-2 loss.

"Not much to say but they hit better and they pitched better," McRae said. "We didn't do a good job. Same old story as last night. We didn't generate enough offense to compete and we gave up too many runs. It's a bad combination."

The game didn't start well as Peter Bergeron led off with a single. Vidro singled to right, and Grieve misplayed the ball, allowing runners to go to second and third.

Rekar struck out Guerrero, walked Lee Stevens, got a forceout at home on Orlando Cabrera's grounder and looked as if he might escape when he got to a 2-and-2 count on Geoff Blum, but Blum lined a fat fastball off the rightfield wall for a three-run double.

"We were one pitch away from getting out of there with no runs, and the next thing you know we're down three," catcher John Flaherty said. "So I thought that first inning was huge as far as a momentum builder or setback. If he comes out of there without giving up any runs, obviously the game is going to be a lot different."

Rekar, staring blankly into his locker, didn't say much of anything. He said he felt fine, he wasn't tired, he probably regretted the pitch to Blum more than any of the other 82 and he wasn't getting frustrated by his increasingly discouraging season.

It was the 32nd time in 91 games the Rays have been held to two runs or fewer and the 17th time they have given up at least 10.

"Good starting pitching is tough to beat and obviously they did a nice job of shutting down our lineup the last two days," Flaherty said. "We got a great start from Tanyon (Sturtze) the first day in here and we couldn't back it up in the next two. Pitching is what wins games and sets the tone."

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