Eighth-inning struggles continue for Rays
Carter surrenderes game-deciding blow to Thomas
CHICAGO -- After his team surrendered an eighth-inning lead for the 10th time this season, saddling the Devil Rays with their sixth straight loss, manager Lou Piniella decided that it was time for something drastic and a little out-of-the-ordinary.
Following Tuesday night's 6-4 loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, Piniella announced that he would start one of his relievers for Wednesday's game and bring in scheduled starter Casey Fossum in the third, so he could be around for the eighth inning.
"Here's what we're going to do: I'm going to start relievers and my starters are coming in the third inning," Piniella said in his postgame talk. "That's the end of that. I made up my mind and that's what we're going to do. People are going to think I'm crazy, but we're just going to try it."
The concept may seem like a joke, but after being outscored by opponents, 90-27, in the eighth inning this year, Piniella seems to finally have had enough. When all those listening to his plan started to snicker, Piniella reiterated that this was not a joke.
"I'm serious when I said that," Piniella said. "That's what we're going to do."
It's not the first time that Piniella has mentioned the idea, but following his team's most recent collapse, this time it seems like the manager might really live up to his word.
Lance Carter (1-2) was charged with the eighth-inning demise this time. He allowed a double to Scott Podsednik and a single to Tadahito Iguchi before making the big error to Thomas, a breaking ball that stayed high and traveled 418-feet into the left-field stands.
"The guy is paid to hit pitches that are terrible and that was a bad pitch," Carter said as he hung his head following the game. "He's hit a lot of home runs and he got that one.
"If I could take it back, I would, but I can't."
The eighth-inning woes just won't go away for the Devil Rays, and losing another in that inning added to the frustration for a club that can't seem to get the breaks to go their way.
The loss was especially disappointing after the strong start by Mark Hendrickson. The southpaw delivered one of his better performances of the season, giving up three runs in 6 2/3 innings of work. He allowed eight hits, striking out four and walking none, but ended up picking up his seventh no-decision of the year.
|Mark Hendrickson / P|
Weight: 240 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: L
"To keep a team like this down and give our team a chance to win the game, that's all you can ask," Hendrickson said of his start.
A see-saw battle for the lead had ensued between the two clubs all night long, but it appeared that the Devil Rays had a good grasp on the game after taking back the lead in the top of the sixth.
Aubrey Huff singled and Travis Lee walked to put two men on base with one out for the Rays. Damon Hollins then hit a double to left that scored Huff and put Tampa Bay ahead, 3-2. Nick Green followed by hiting into a fielder's choice, but the throw to home by Juan Uribe was not in time, enabling Lee to push the Rays' lead to two.
But the White Sox just wouldn't go away, and continued to chip at the lead in the seventh. After a miscue by Green on a ground ball foiled a double-play opportunity, the Sox collected two more singles to pull within one, 4-3.
Then came the disastrous eighth that cost the Devil Rays another game.
"The eighth inning is just like a jinx for us," Huff said, shaking his head. "I don't know what it is."
How to break that eighth-inning hex has been something batted around all season, and since the plan to use Carter didn't work on Tuesday, Piniella seems to think that maybe only his starters can help to rid the team of the curse.
Wednesday may be the ideal time to try out this change. Scheduled starter Fossum started the season as a reliever, and is used to coming in for all types of situations; starting a game in the third is not a completely foreign to him.
"It wouldn't be anything new to me," Fossum said of the possibility of coming in for the third inning. "But it does sound a little different."
The concept of starting a reliever may seem quite unorthodox, but Fossum said he had heard of other managers considering the idea in the past.
Piniella said he didn't know if anyone had tried that strategy before.
"Listen, I don't want to be an innovator, but we're just going to try it and see what happens," Piniella said.
Until Fossum gets an official word, though, he is still taking this idea as another one of Piniella's off-the-cuff ideas that seem to follow tough losses.
"Obviously, we have to try something," Fossum said. "But I'm prepared to start tomorrow until I hear otherwise."
Kelly Thesier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.