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RAYS FANS TRY TO TAKE LOSS IN STRIDE

After Tampa Bay lets the world title slip away to Philadelphia, several supporters gathered in St. Petersburg give the team a standing ovation.

The Rays lost. But committed fans at El Cap, the famous hamburger joint on Fourth Street N, were over it within seconds and gave the Rays a screaming-loud, standing ovation Wednesday night.

There were toasts and backslapping, more like what happens when a baby is born, probably a rarity when a baseball team loses its fourth game of the World Series by just a hair.

"I've never been in a bar where a team lost and they got a standing ovation," said Kate Hester, 26, a human resources manager, on a first date for the Rays final game of the season.

She turned to her date.

"It's huge progress forward and you have to be proud of that," said Hester. "But it's bittersweet."

The Rays' journey has tasted a lot like Rocky Road ice cream. You didn't know what to expect next. They won three out of four games against the Chicago White Sox to win the American League Division Series in early October. They won the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox four games to three.

They ran out of chances against the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night, but they gained a lot of respect.

"A year ago, nobody could imagine this," said Bobby Ballew, 59, owner of an auto garage.

"We won a division playoff," said Debra Wright, 50, a bookkeeper. "That's something to be proud of."

The Rays' loss brought tears to the eyes of some fans, not for the loss, but for what the team gained this year. Heart. Perseverance. Identity.

"You've got to be so happy for them," said Linda Rizzo, wiping tears from behind her glasses. "They've come so far."

The Rays may have lost. But fans such as Mike Riggins and Newton "Doc" Rogers, who have parked themselves at the El Cap game after game this season, can see the silver lining already.

There's something to look forward to next year.

Times reporter Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at lapeter@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8640.

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