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ST. PETERSBURG - For a week the Tampa Bay Rays heard how wonderful they are - uh, were. They raised banners to the rafters of Tropicana Field, gave out rings, passed out trophies, a real dandy celebration of last year's wonder season, except for one small problem. They also threw in some really bad Baseball.
Sunday's desultory 12-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox ended the seven-game "Championship Week" (thank goodness). The Rays lost five of those games. After scoring 15 against the Yankees to start the homestand, the Rays were outscored 39-18 the rest of the way.
So as Arnold Schwarzenegger said in "The Terminator," "Get out!"
The nine-game road trip that begins Tuesday in Seattle comes at a perfect time. The farther they can get away from here right now, the better. They were 57-24 last season at the Trop but any resemblance to that team is purely coincidental.
Rays manager Joe Maddon conceded as much after the carnage ended Sunday.
"With all the dig-me week that just went on, it's about time we got out of here and just got back to playing Baseball," he said.
Yeah, it's early in a long season. Lest we forget, the Rays scuffled at the start of last season too. They were 8-11 on this date in 2008, in last place in the American League East, but we'll stop all comparisons of that club and this one right now.
"There has been a lot of fanfare this week, a lot of reminders of last year," Maddon said. "It's all good and it's necessary. But this is 2009 and we're trying to make 2009 better than 2008. We just need to get away from all this and get back to the business at hand and play good Baseball."
Too many walks
There wasn't nearly enough of that during the past week. Rays pitchers walked 15 White Sox in the final two games of this series and were outscored 20-5. They gave up five home runs. They were down 7-0 Sunday by the sixth inning, which sent a fair portion of the 29,142 who showed up to the exits and other pursuits.
The way the Rays have been hitting, a seven-run hole was basically the Grand Canyon anyway. They have scored four or fewer runs in nine of their 13 games.
"Everybody's trying too hard," Maddon said. "We're hitting way too many fly balls. We're not working good at-bats like we normally do. We're swinging at pitchers' pitches, all the things that occur when you're not swinging the bats well."
By the end of the game, the Trop was so empty you'd have thought a way-back machine had sent you to a Rays -Royals game in basically any year prior to the last one.
Counting the end of the first road trip at Baltimore, the Rays have lost three consecutive series. The hits that came last year at just the right time are turning into outs so far this season. Clutch catches aren't getting made because too many opponents' hits are winding up in the outfield seats.
Oh, and B.J. Upton left Sunday's game in the third inning with a strained quad muscle. Maddon says it isn't serious, but it's one more thing the Rays don't need right now.
The Rays passed out replica pennants Sunday as "Championship Week" came to a close, but now the only thing they need to distribute are plane tickets and hotel keys.
They won't be home again until April 30 against Boston. Perhaps by then we'll recognize them.
"We'll find out," Maddon said. "I just know this whole week was a great week but it was also difficult. That has been part of my concern, the consistent reminder of last year. I was to move this beyond last year.
"It was beautiful, it was wonderful, and it was a beginning for us. But now it's time to create an even better 2009. It's time to move forward."
Photo: Joe Maddon
"Everybody's trying too hard," he said.
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