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GOMES' SLAM ONLY SETS STAGE FOR HEARTBREAK

A Rays rally in the eighth is very short-lived.

Inside the manager's office most of the talk, predictably, was about the eighth-inning comeback that dramatically -albeit briefly - pulled the Devil Rays even in Tuesday's game.

But what happened before, and immediately after, made it another miserable night for the Rays, whose rally went for naught in what turned into another frustrating loss, 9-6 to the suddenly feisty Tigers.

"That's what you call an emotional roller-coaster when it happens that quick," said Jonny Gomes, who hit a tying grand slam . "And an emotional roller-coaster that we didn't come out on top, we stayed at the bottom."

The Rays now have a major-league 70 losses in 112 games and are on a pace for 101 losses.

Or put another way, to avoid a second straight, and a fourth overall, season of 100 losses, they have to win 21 of their remaining 50 games, which include 12 against the best-in-baseball Red Sox, six against the Yankees and Blue Jays, and three more with the Tigers, Indians and Angels.

The way the Rays started Tuesday's game, it seemed the day-long rains that left Detroit hot and sticky were going to be the better part of the day for them. Starter Jason Hammel's previously tight shoulder felt fine but he lasted only four innings while his teammates struck out nine times in 72/3 innings against Nate Robertson - the same Nate Robertson who came into the game with a 6-9 record and 5.05 ERA.

Down 6-1 after five, the Rays added one run in the seventh then rallied dramatically in the eighth, loading the bases with three singles. Gomes delivered hugely, a grand slam that completed what was the Rays' biggest comeback of the season.

"It is disappointing," manager Joe Maddon said. "But I love the way we fought back."

But new reliever Dan Wheeler, working a second inning after not pitching the previous five days, couldn't keep it that way.

Tampa native Ryan Raburn (a one-time Rays draft pick quickly becoming another who got away) started the Detroit eighth with a double down the leftfield line. Craig Monroe was trying to bunt but Wheeler hit him on the hand, then Brandon Inge did bunt, moving the runners to second and third.

Wheeler could have gotten one out on Curtis Granderson's grounder, but second baseman Brendan Harris' throw was to the wrong side of the plate. And he might've gotten another, but Placido Polanco's blooper landed in shallow rightfield. Just like that, the game turned.

Maddon said there were "a lot of little nicks and cuts and bruises" in the inning but thought the key play was the hit batter, since the Rays didn't get an out the Tigers were trying to give them. Wheeler was more distraught that he allowed Granderson to hit the ground ball rather than strike him out.

Either way, it was a bad ending, especially since it was arguably the first real chance for Wheeler - acquired 10 days ago - to prove his worth. Instead it was a second straight game the bullpen let get away.

"It's tough to swallow any time," Wheeler said. "The way we fought back, that grand slam, was huge. As a pitcher you've got to shut the door and get us back in (the dugout) as soon as possible. I just didn't do my job tonight."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.

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