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BICKERING RAYS SLIP INTO MEDIOCRITY

Crawford, Burrell argue; walkoff loss drops Tampa Bay to .500.

So this is what the Rays have spiraled to in the final weeks of the once-promising season: an uninspired team with a .500 record and two of its highest-paid players clashing in the clubhouse.

A loud and angry pregame beef Carl Crawford had with Pat Burrell was said by manager Joe Maddon to be nothing much. Neither was their effort in a 4-2 rain-delayed walkoff loss to the Orioles that dropped the Rays to 73-73, and what may be a challenge of needing to finish 9-7 for a winning record.

"I didn't think it would end like this," Crawford said.

Matt Wieters' two-run game-ending homer off Russ Springer, following the pregame Crawford-Burrell drama and a 100-minute late-inning rain delay, added another chapter to what has been a miserable 1-9 trip. The lowlights include the season-ending injury to Carlos Pena, seven straight losses to extend their playoff-killing losing streak to 11, a pair of doubleheader sweeps, a postponement in Boston and more than seven hours of rain delays.

And there's one more game left tonight.

Locusts, anyone?

If it isn't the worst trip in franchise history, it may be a close second to the 2-10 cross-country fiasco in 2005 that culminated in Pittsburgh with Lou Piniella's beginning-of-his-end rant about the incoming Stuart Sternberg ownership.

The Rays, after a surprisingly solid start by Andy Sonnanstine, trailed 2-1 in the eighth when the steady, light rain worsened. What was supposed to be a short delay lasted from 9:05 to 10:45, play resuming with literally just a few hundred fans remaining from what already was one of the tiniest crowds ever at Camden Yards, 10,548.

First the Rays rallied, Ben Zobrist tying it with a full-count, one-out homer off Jim Johnson. But the warm feelings were short-lived as Springer walked leadoff man Luke Scott, then gave up a first-pitch homer to Wieters that looked like a flyout to all the Rays but carried about two rows into the leftfield seats.

It was the Rays' second walkoff loss on the trip and seventh of the season, and it was the ninth time in their 37-game tailspin that they've given up a homer from the eighth inning on that cost them a game.

"That happened to us again," Maddon. "It's incredible in a very condensed amount of time how often that has happened. It's truly remarkable to watch in a negative way. It's tough to see. It's tough to watch. But we'll come out and play again (tonight)."

Springer gave up his third game-deciding homer since being acquired in August for what was supposed to be a playoff push.

"I've just been pitching stupid," he said. "I'm not pitching the way I'm capable of pitching as far as pitch selection and setting hitters up. I've got to do a better job."

Sonnanstine was the unfortunate victim, taking advantage of an unexpected extra start to put a good spin on the tail end of his wayward season, working into the sixth and allowing only two runs (one earned) on three hits. "A good stepping stone," he said.

But his teammates failed him, shut down and nearly shut out by Chris Tillman, a 21-year-old making his ninth major-league start. He retired the first 10 in order and allowed only one hit through five innings.

"It's definitely tough to watch," Sonnanstine said.

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

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