Rays optimistic after tough loss

Rays optimistic after tough loss

ST. PETERSBURG -- Never giving up has been a trademark of the 2006 Devil Rays. But being competitive and winning have proven to be mutually exclusive for a club experiencing the growing pains familiar to most young teams.

Sunday afternoon's loss was the latest chapter in the book about a competitive Rays team that hasn't found a way to close the deal. The Rays fell behind by four runs, fought back to tie the game, and ultimately got beat in the late innings in a 9-7 loss to the A's in front of a crowd of 16,791 at Tropicana Field.

"You've got to quit making mistakes," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We made some mental mistakes in that game. Whether it's missing a sign or something that you do, whether it's on the base paths or positioning-wise -- those things aren't really obvious -- or making a pitch or not making a pitch -- [we need to work on the] little things.

"And there's something to be said for the phrase 'learning how to win,' but we're not there yet. We're getting there. We're more competitive now than any time this year."

Personifying the frustrations of not yet knowing how to win was the manner in which the game ended. Huston Street entered the game in the ninth trying to protect a 9-7 A's lead. Greg Norton greeted the Oakland closer with a single, and one out later, Jorge Cantu followed with another single to bring the winning run to the plate in pinch-hitter Kevin Witt.

Witt lined a ball down the first-base line that Dan Johnson speared. The Oakland first baseman then raced Cantu back to first, trying for a game-ending double play, but Cantu beat him to the bag. Johnson got to his feet and looked toward second base and saw that Norton still had a long way to go to get back to the base. Johnson threw the ball to shortstop Marco Scutaro, who stepped on the base to complete the game-ending double play.

"It's a mental mistake," Maddon said.

Delmon Young's RBI double in the first gave the Rays a 1-0 lead, but Eric Chavez answered with a two-run homer in the second off Rays starter Jae Seo to stake the A's to a 2-1 lead and give the Rays their 80th blown lead of the season.

Cantu's 13th home run of the season, off A's starter Barry Zito, tied the score at 2 after two innings, before Oakland got two of its own in the fourth on home runs by Frank Thomas -- who cleared the fence for the fifth consecutive day -- and Nick Swisher. The A's added two more in the fifth, when Thomas drove home two with a bases-loaded single.

"This is the time where the men come out and play," A's manager Ken Macha said of Thomas.

Despite the deficit, the Rays did not wilt.

Cantu singled home two in the fifth to cut the A's lead to 6-4. Young tripled home the Rays' fifth run in the sixth and scored on Carl Crawford's two-out infield single to tie the score at 6.

The A's didn't let the Rays' comeback get the best of them.

Chavez's RBI double in the seventh broke a 6-6 tie and Scutaro added a home run in the eighth.

Rocco Baldelli hit his 10th home run of the season -- a solo shot in the bottom of the eighth that cut Oakland's advantage to 8-7 -- but Johnson's sacrifice fly in the ninth pushed the A's lead back to two.

"I have no complaints how we played today," Maddon said. "We made some mistakes -- made some mental mistakes. Physical mistakes I can carry and I'm OK with at any moment, but mental mistakes are the things that eat you up."

Maddon was asked if he was surprised the Rays had not turned the corner for winning by this stage of the season.

"I would think if we had been able to maintain the team we started the season with through the year you might see that," Maddon said. "But the fact that we've encountered so many different personnel moves during the year makes it more difficult. ... I see a lot of good things. I see guys getting better. I see more awareness. It's just not quite there yet."

But it's coming according to Maddon and according to the players in the clubhouse.

"I'm really, really looking forward to next season," Cantu said. "[It'll be excited to] build this team with the young players that we are and continue to battle. We're going to get those wins eventually."

Cantu added that he doesn't feel frustrated about the situation.

"I don't take it that way," Cantu said. "Everybody's doing their best and I'm sure of that. I mean, you see the way we go out there every day. We're expecting to win. We battle. ... Everybody's playing hard and trying to do the best they can."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.