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Five-run lead evaporates in the ninth

Five-run lead evaporates in the ninth

TORONTO -- Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon spent most of his pregame media session talking about how newly defined roles in the bullpen have helped his relievers turn their season around.

When some of those same relievers were asked to try pitching in a different situation on Tuesday night against the Blue Jays, though, it ended in disaster.

With Rays closer Al Reyes unavailable to pitch, a combination of four Tampa Bay relievers coughed up a five-run ninth-inning lead as the Rays lost 12-11 to Toronto at Rogers Centre.

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"You would like to think we could get three outs with a five-run lead," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's very disappointing. To give up a game like that with that kind of a commanding lead, it's just not good."

The Rays bullpen was charged with five walks, four doubles, and six runs in the disastrous final frame.

After right-handers Chad Orvella and Shawn Camp combined to record just one out of the first six batters they faced, lefty Casey Fossum was brought in to face Jays first baseman Matt Stairs. With one out and the tying run on second, Fossum (3-6) promptly gave up an RBI double to Stairs that scored Jays center fielder Vernon Wells and put the game's winning run on second base.

Two batters later, right-hander Tim Corcoran walked Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill with the bases loaded to end the game. The come-from-behind victory by Toronto matches the largest ninth-inning comeback the Jays have ever had in their 31-year history.

Predictably, the mood in the Rays clubhouse following the game was anything but joyous.

"It's not a positive by any means," Corcoran said. "It's a flat out negative. You've got that many runs, you should win the game 100 percent of the time."

Rays left fielder Carl Crawford -- in the middle of his sixth season with Tampa Bay -- said as the ninth inning unfolded he couldn't help but feel a little bit of deja vu.

"To be honest I don't even know what to say about a game like tonight," Crawford said. "You're just speechless afterwards.

"We definitely were thinking we could still win. But in the back of your mind you know you've gone through this for six years, naturally you're going to think about, 'Is this going to happen again?' You don't want to think like that, but when you've been through it so much, you naturally think about it a little bit."

Reyes, who's a perfect 14-for-14 in save opportunities this season, was unavailable because he pitched in Tampa's last three games. Reyes underwent reconstructive elbow surgery at the end of 2005, and the Rays have been cautious about making sure they don't overextend his workload.

"It's about the whole year, it's not just about tonight," Maddon said. "I already told him before the game he was not going to pitch. So, there was no way I was going to [bring him in during the ninth inning]."

The late-inning collapse cost right-hander Andy Sonnanstine a win in his Major League debut. Sonnanstine allowed six earned runs on eight hits while striking out five over seven innings of work.

His biggest mistake of the game came to Jays left fielder Adam Lind. Toronto's rookie took a 2-1 pitch from Sonnanstine and hit what looked to be an easy fly ball to left field, but the ball kept carrying and ended up landing just over the wall in left for a three-run homer.

Maddon said after the game that Sonnanstine's aggressiveness is what really made him stand out.

"He really went after the hitters," Maddon said. "You could see from the very first pitch he was going to be in the zone and that's what you love to see. You love to see that you make the other team beat you and that's what he does. It was a great first step."

Also overshadowed in the loss will be the Rays' huge night at the plate. Tampa (24-31) tied a season high with 17 hits while second baseman B.J. Upton tied matched a career high with four. Crawford meanwhile became the new franchise all-time leader in hits with 817 when he singled to center off Jays ace Roy Halladay in the top of the third inning.

The Rays managed to score four runs in the third and four more in the fourth to chase Halladay from the game. The former Cy Young Award winner surrendered eight runs on 12 hits while striking out one over 3 1/3 innings.

"We should have won that game tonight obviously," Maddon said. "The way we came at Halladay, I was very pleased with that. Good at-bats, at-bat after at-bat. Saw a lot of pitches, clutch hits, runners running the bases well, we did a lot of great things tonight; we just didn't finish it."

All of this from a bullpen that had a 3.48 ERA with 14 strikeouts over its last 10 1/3 innings.

"Without Reyes out there, it's a whole different tone," Maddon said.

Gregor Chisholm is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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