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AL EAST DEFENSE ENDS IN SHAME

The Rays lose an "embarrassing'' 11th in a row to officially end hope of a repeat.

The official relinquishment of the American League East title was inevitable. Unexpected was the embarrassment that came with it Sunday, the Rays extending their losing streak to a major-league season-worst 11 after being swept in another doubleheader, and looking bad in doing so.

"It's embarrassing," starter James Shields said. "It is. It's embarrassing. Eleven straight losses are embarrassing. It's not fun right now. We've got to play better baseball from here on out. I don't care if we're in the race or not."

Evan Longoria spoke of the frustration, saying, "I don't think we could get any lower than we are at this point." Carl Crawford talked about the disappointment, saying, "I don't think anybody expected it to turn out like this."

Manager Joe Maddon went as far as calling the past two weeks "tough, bad, horrid," but then said "false analyzation" based on recent events will portray the 72-71 team as worse than it is and predicted the Rays will reclaim the division title next season.

"I know you're going to look at right now, we're a game over .500, 11 games in a row," Maddon said, "but my goodness 11 days ago we were in pretty good shape."

Both of Sunday's losses - 3-1 in the opener, 4-0 in the nightcap - typified what has done them in: a stunning lack of offense (seven consecutive Carlos Pena-less games with zero, one or two runs) and a crushing blow near the end.

The matinee was tied at 1 into the eighth, when otherwise impressive starter Matt Garza - in a slight plot twist in that it wasn't a reliever - gave up a two-run homer to Dustin Pedroia.

Shields was nearly as sharp into the sixth inning of the second game, trailing 1-0 when it was time for a defensive miscue. First baseman Willy Aybar made his contribution, booting a Jason Varitek bouncer that allowed two runs.

"It's obviously not fun at this point," Longoria said. "I think everyone in this clubhouse is feeling the pain. We're taking some bumps and bruises right now. It seems like we get into close situations late in games, and breaks don't go our way and we're not finding a way to win."

The other way to say that is - much like the Devil Rays teams of their past - they are finding ways to lose.

In the nightcap, with the 1-0 deficit to Boston's Jon Lester already looking large, it was - in another example of how much they've missed Pena - Aybar's defensive lapse that did them in.

"Again, we made the mistake late that hurt us," Maddon said. "And all this other stuff is magnified by the lack of offense. ... This whole week has been pretty much negative offense. ... We've got to get better there."

Garza made a strong pitch in the opener to snap his career-worst eight-game winless streak but was outdueled by Clay Buchholz, then done in by David Ortiz and Pedroia.

Maddon has been criticized - more loudly given the recent bullpen blowups - for not sticking longer with his starters. He did this time - it really wasn't much of a decision since Garza, who typically works deeper into games, had thrown only 103 pitches through seven innings - and it backfired as well.

First Garza hung a full-count curveball that pinch-hitting Ortiz laced for a double. Not only was that bad, but also Garza's sequencing of going to the breaking ball at 3-and-2, so obvious even a rookie could notice.

"I was talking to (David) Price after I came in and I said, 'Man, he was sitting on a curveball,'" Garza relayed. "He said, 'Man, everyone in the freakin' stadium knew you were throwing a curveball.'"

There was something of a surprise coming, after a sac bunt, as Pedroia drove a 2-and-0 fastball over the low rightfield wall, just the second time in 1,811 career at-bats he has hit an opposite-field homer, and he looked to enjoy it.

"You saw his reaction," Sox manager Terry Francona said. "I don't think he knew he could do it, either."

"Pedroia hitting a home run to rightfield, I've said this several times, is the last thing you expected," Maddon said. "Most of the time when he goes to that side of the field it's a line drive. He just got that up and hit it in the opposite field bullpen. That's their day when that happens."

It certainly wasn't the Rays' day.

Or their year.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

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UP NEXT

At Orioles

Tonight-Thursday

What's new: The Orioles are continually playing for the future, though 2B Brian Roberts, who leads the majors with 51 doubles, and RF Nick Markakis are pretty good now. All-Star OF Adam Jones is out with an ankle injury, but OF Felix Pie has stepped up. The O's are pushing OF Nolan Reimold (.277-15-45) for rookie of the year honors. The O's have the AL's worst pitching staff and a bullpen that has an 8.23 ERA over its past 15 games.

Key stat: The O's, despite winning two of three in New York, are 7-35 in their past 42 AL East road games.

Connections: INF Ty Wigginton, RHP Danny Baez and LHP Mark Hendrickson are ex-Rays, RHP Chris Ray a Tampa product. Rays C Gregg Zaun, 1B Chris Richard and RHPs Lance Cormier and Chad Bradford are former O's.

Series history: Tied at 5 this season, with eight games among the next 16. Overall, O's lead 101-95 and 55-42 at Camden, including 3-2 this season.

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