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Basement starting to beckon for Rays

If the Devil Rays want to avoid a seventh straight last-place finish, they're going to have to show it soon.

The Rays bumbled their way through another game Sunday, losing 9-7 to Toronto and, by dropping two of three over the weekend, losing more ground in the race to finish ahead of the Jays, holding a two-game lead with 15 to play.

There is a difference of opinion in the clubhouse over whether a fourth-place finish is something to play for, but there is no doubt the Rays will have to play better to get anywhere.

"Today we just played like Little Leaguers," shortstop Julio Lugo said. "I'm embarrassed for myself and for the team."

Three errors, a couple of other misplays, two blown leads, ineffective pitching, wasted scoring opportunities . . .

"We weren't ready to play today," Rocco Baldelli said. "We might have been ready-ready, but it didn't look like it. It wasn't good at all. Everything was bad."

The 1-0 first-inning lead on Aubrey Huff's 27th homer didn't last as rookie Scott Kazmir, looking nothing like he did in beating Boston on Tuesday, struggled with command of his slider and the beginnings of a blister on his middle finger.

The Rays battled back for a 5-3 lead in the third on Tino Martinez's 22nd homer, but that advantage disappeared quickly, too, Kazmir giving up a home run, two doubles and a walk before leaving after 69 pitches, and Chad Gaudin struggling again in relief.

"We took (Kazmir) out because he wasn't effective. That's why we took him out," a terse Lou Piniella said. "But we were going to take him out anyway. We weren't going to let him throw with that because it could have developed into a blister."

The Jays led 8-5 after three, and the Rays kept foiling their own efforts. They didn't help themselves on offense, Huff leaving the bases loaded in the fourth and the team getting one run from a promising rally in the sixth, and they hurt themselves, as they have often lately, with careless defense.

"We had a situation here for about half a year where we were in the top three or four teams in the league defensively, and over the course of the second half of the year we worked our way down to the bottom three or four," Piniella said.

Rightfielder Jose Cruz, who earlier lost a ball in the sun, played a Carlos Delgado single into two bases to start the fourth for his major-league outfielder-high 10th error. Then Lugo's second error of the game, and fifth since Tuesday, led to another Toronto run.

Leftfielder Carl Crawford said all the Rays need to step up their play during the final two weeks.

"I know guys are tired and what-not, but it would really be nice not to finish in last place," he said. "I mean, damn, we did it the last six years, right? I'd say it's time for a change."

Lugo said he was confident the Rays would be motivated to finish strong. "I don't think anybody in here wants to finish in last place," he said.

But others, such as Huff, say it's not much of a rallying cry at the end of another long season.

"It's kind of a joke," Huff said. "I don't like to talk about it. It's kind of a loser's attitude _ not to finish last. We're down there, what's the difference fourth or fifth? We're not going anywhere. I'd rather talk about getting better and winning the wild card next year or something like that than talking about finishing in last place."

First things first.

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