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Goals slipping away from Rays

So there was Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford, raising his arm Monday night to make a routine throw from near the leftfield wall at Tropicana Field.

But as Crawford's arm came forward, the ball slipped from his hand and flew sideways past centerfielder Rocco Baldelli. The error, Crawford's second all season, let Kansas City's David DeJesus turn what should have been a double into an uncontested romp around the bases.

The ninth-inning run was not critical in the Rays' 6-3 loss to the Royals. Kansas City already led by two. But it nicely summed up a forgettable effort played before an announced crowd of 8,315, the smallest at home this season.

"It wasn't a good ballgame," manager Lou Piniella said.

Tampa Bay's third straight loss and fifth in six games cut its advantage to one game in the East over the last-place Blue Jays. The Rays must win seven of their final 14 to win 70 for the first time.

That 10 games are against teams below .500 doesn't mean much when you lose at home to, statistically, the worst team in the league.

"You can't really say you should beat a team because these are major-league teams," Crawford said. "Everybody can beat anybody at any given time. But this is a game we would have liked to get the win. It's disappointing because we don't want to finish last."

Calvin Pickering finished off the Rays.

The Temple Terrace resident and graduate of King High had a run-scoring double and a slicing two-run home run in the eighth off reliever Jorge Sosa and off the leftfield foul pole to break a tie at 3.

Pickering took his sweet time rounding the bases and was booed. But he said he was limited by a cramp in his left hamstring.

Pickering also scored twice. He dashed home from second on Alexis Gomez's second-inning single and just beat the tag of catcher Toby Hall, who took Baldelli's throw a tad up the first-base line.

The Rays argued, but Piniella said replays showed Pickering was safe.

"I'm happy to be back home," Pickering said. "I can't ask for anything better."

It was not all bad for Tampa Bay. Aubrey Huff hit his 28th home run, a two-run blast that gave him 98 RBIs and the Rays a 2-0 first-inning lead. Crawford hit his career-high 10th home run. And starter Dewon Brazelton allowed three runs on six hits with four strikeouts.

But Royals starter Brian Anderson matched him, allowing three runs on seven hits in 7 innings. And the left-hander, 5-11 but with three straight victories, retired 10 of the 12 batters he faced after Crawford's home run tied the score at 3 in the fifth.

The lack of runners made baserunning gaffes more painful.

Jose Cruz, with one out in the fourth, broke home on Hall's grounder to third and was out in a rundown. Rey Sanchez was doubled off first in the seventh on Crawford's line drive to short. And Tino Martinez was doubled off first to end the game after shortstop Angel Berroa made an over-the-shoulder catch of Hall's fly to short left.

Then there was Crawford's throw/fling/whatever in the ninth.

"I don't know what happened with that," he said. "I just came up to throw and the next thing you know the ball is rolling toward the wall. It just came out of my hand the wrong way.

"I don't know what to say. You might not ever see me do that again hopefully."

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