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Lugo: Fourth a goal worth salvaging

Julio Lugo said finishing last in the AL East would be "embarrassing" for the Devil Rays.

But even if the team finishes fourth for the first time in its seven seasons, the shortstop said it should have done better.

"We have a better team than we showed," Lugo said. "I don't know if we could have competed for second or third place, but I know we have a better team."

After Monday's loss to the Royals, Tampa Bay (63-85) was only one game ahead of the last-place Blue Jays.

"It means something to me, and to a lot of people on this team it means something," Lugo said of holding fourth place.

"For me it's embarrassing to finish in last. You don't want to tell your friends where you went up to. You can tell your friends you finished in fourth place and that could be good because there could be six or seven teams. But finishing last, it's embarrassing. It's not a good place to finish for anybody."

Said manager Lou Piniella: "I don't think it's going to make earth-shattering news one way or another in Tokyo, but we're going to try our darndest to stay out of the cellar."

Lugo said he doesn't know why the team took a nosedive after a 30-10 streak pushed it to 40-38 on July 3.

"A little lack of concentration," he said.

More broadly, Lugo said, "I don't think our hitting, our fielding and pitching was together the whole season. We need to bring it together for the whole season and finish strong and pick each other up. I don't think we did that very well this year."

LURCHING AHEAD: Piniella said the team's stints in third and fourth place proved it made progress.

"That shows you the possibilities," he said. "What you see, basically, is a team that's not deep enough to play a 162-game schedule. But it goes to show you if you add to this thing, you can look for improvement."

Piniella called the schedule "cruel. If you have weaknesses and injuries and deficiencies they show up, and when they show up, they start accelerating. And when you plug them with younger kids, you run into more of a problem because of the inexperience factor. That's what happened to us."

MORE LUGO: Lugo has made six errors in six games, two in Sunday's loss to the Blue Jays. That's 24 errors in 625 chances for a .962 fielding percentage, 10th in the league among shortstops.

"It's tough," Lugo said. "I work hard and I take pride in my defensive game. I know I have the ability to become one of the best defensive shortstops. I know I can and it bothers me because I work hard on that department."

Lugo said errors must be forgotten quickly. Still, he said that Sunday, for the first time in his career, he hoped balls would not be hit his way.

"It's tough to keep your concentration," he said. "I just have to bear down and keep going the last few weeks."

IT'S NOT JUST LUGO: Tampa Bay has made 47 errors in 40 games to fall from fourth in the league in fielding to 12th.

_ DAMIAN CRISTODERO,

Times staff writer

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