Rough fifth sinks McClung, Rays
Righty loses 10th game of '06; Branyan, Crawford homer
PHILADELPHIA -- Seth McClung was cruising.Tampa Bay had given him a 3-0 lead to work with, and the Rays starter had allowed one hit through 2 2/3 innings. Three hits and two runs later, the Phillies were back in it. Two innings later, McClung was out of it. Thanks to two big innings, McClung lost his sixth straight start as the Rays fell to the Phillies, 8-5, on Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. Tampa Bay fell short of a three-game sweep and finished its 10-game road trip at 5-5. The big blow belonged to Phils first baseman Ryan Howard. With two on and two out in the fifth and the score tied at 3, the 250-pound McClung delivered his first pitch low and away. Howard, who also weighs 250 pounds, delivered the ball just over the left-field fence for a three-run homer. "A little bit off the plate, down and away, and then we were going to work another direction," McClung said. "But we didn't get there." Howard's blast capped a four-run fifth that knocked McClung from the game. For McClung (2-10) -- the Major Leagues' first pitcher to 10 losses -- the big inning has been a signature of his recent trouble. "He'll retire bunches of batters in a row, but then this moment will creep up," manager Joe Maddon said. "If you look at his record, that's primarily why it's this way." Part of the explanation on Sunday might have been the top of the fifth. With nobody out and Josh Paul on first base, McClung pushed a bunt toward the hole on the right side. Chase Utley used his glove to flip the ball to shortstop Jimmy Rollins, leaving McClung on the basepaths for the rest of the inning. And on a 90-degree day, that's not desirable for a starting pitcher. "On a day like today when it's that warm out there, you really can't expend a lot of energy just hanging out," Maddon said.
Tampa Bay staked McClung to a 3-0 lead with home runs by Russell Branyan and Carl Crawford.But for the 43rd time this year, they lost a game in which they had led -- the most in the Major Leagues. The Rays had chances to get back in it in the eighth and ninth, but were foiled by Phillies closer Tom Gordon. In the eighth, Toby Hall, the fifth straight pinch-hitter in the inning, flied out to center field with the bases loaded to end the inning. Then an inning later, Julio Lugo and Crawford led off the frame with back-to-back singles. But Jorge Cantu grounded into a 6-4-3 double play before Aubrey Huff got caught looking at strike three to end the game. "I love the way our guys battled until the last out of the ninth inning," Maddon said. The Rays saw a couple of streaks end with the final out. They had been 5-0 in Interleague Play this season and had won their last five against Philadelphia dating back to 2001. Still, a 5-5 road trip, considering the rough losses in Kansas City and Detroit, was not looked upon as a disappointment in the Rays' clubhouse. "Especially after coming out of Detroit, it's good to get two wins here," Paul said. As for McClung, Maddon said that his spot in the rotation is secure despite the recent losses. According to his catcher, only minor changes are necessary. "I think it's just a rough spot now," Paul said. "They're not huge adjustments."
Zachary Levine is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.