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Little things to cling to

Forgive Julio Lugo for downplaying his performance in Friday night's game against the Blue Jays.

The Devil Rays shortstop is in a rough stretch, and one game does not mean everything is back to normal. But there is no questioning what Lugo meant to Tampa Bay's 4-2 victory, played before an appreciative and energetic announced crowd of 13,003 at Tropicana Field.

Lugo's two-run, two-out single in the sixth broke a 2-2 tie. He fielded five chances perfectly and made a scintillating play in the first inning when he went deep in the hole to snag Vernon Wells' grounder and threw across his body to get a force at second.

"It was good to see him settle down because he's been very productive for us all year," winning pitcher Mark Hendrickson said. "It was good to see because he's been valuable for us."

"It was," Lugo said, "just nice to contribute."

Especially in a game with so much consequence.

Had Tampa Bay lost it would have fallen to fifth place (that's last, by the way) in the East for the first time since June 14. Instead, the Rays are 1{ games ahead of the bottom-dwelling Jays in a quest to finish off the bottom for the first time in their seven-year history.

"None of us wants to finish in last place," Lugo said. "You have to have some pride. You don't even want to say you finished in last place. It's embarrassing to finish in last place every year."

If Tampa Bay plays more games like this one _ the result being its 36th win at home, one off the 2001 team record _ it won't have much to worry about. Aubrey Huff's first-inning homer off Josh Towers tied Ichiro Suzuki's season-best streak of hits in eight straight at-bats.

Hendrickson pitched seven innings and allowed one earned run on five hits with five strikeouts and zero walks. Danys Baez earned his 29th save and major-league best 18th straight. And Carl Crawford's fifth-inning home run to right-centerfield went 451 feet, the longest at the Trop this season.

There was some pretty good defense by first baseman Tino Martinez, who twice went deep down the rightfield line to make over-the-shoulder catches of foul pops. And centerfielder Rocco Baldelli, who had two hits and two stolen bases, made a running, wall-banging catch of Eric Hinske's line drive.

"Right now we have something to go for," Lugo said. "And we have some pride."

So does Lugo who was given Thursday off for what manager Lou Piniella called a mental break. Lugo made seven errors in his previous eight games and has 26 this season, including 25 at shortstop which, entering Friday, tied him for most with Kansas City's Angel Berroa.

"It just feels awkward right now," Lugo said. "Not comfortable. I'm probably thinking too much. I just think it's a matter of feeling more comfortable."

Lugo said he was just trying to make contact on his sixth-inning hit, a dunker in front of Wells in centerfield. It was a good ending to a two-out uprising that included Midre Cummings' single and Baldelli's scorched double to the leftfield corner that set up Lugo.

"That was the key, the two-out hitting in the sixth inning," Piniella said. "A good win for us."

And a positive step for Lugo.