Many teams may feel deeply disappointed on the day they're eliminated from their division race this year, but why should Tampa Bay?
Little is expected from any first-year franchise, after all. And the Devil Rays happened to come into existence in the same year and in the same division that the New York Yankees are putting together a fantastic season. So nobody was downcast Sunday when the Devil Rays became the first club this year to be mathematically eliminated, falling 42 ½ games behind the Yankees in the AL East with 41 to play.
On a note of hope for the expansion club, they went out with a bang, beating Kansas City 8-3 Sunday for a split of their four-game series and their first two-game win streak since the end of July.
"At the beginning of the year, I told you guys what the parameters were, and they haven't changed," manager Larry Rothschild said. "I don't think anybody in this room is going to be surprised that we were eliminated from first place in the American League East today.
"I'm not going to worry about it right now. Hopefully in the future I'll have to worry about those things. That's what we're trying to get to."
The future will brighten if Julio Santana continues to mature the way he seemed to on Sunday. The right-hander, despite not having his best stuff, held the Royals to six hits through seven innings as the Devil Rays went to 5-0 in his last five starts.
"If you go out there and you think no matter what your body is telling you, and you have good focus on your pitches, it's going to work," said Santana (4-2), who had six strikeouts and four walks and matched his victory total of his rookie year last season with the Texas Rangers.
"I said to myself if I throw my sinker very low in the strike zone, they're going to hit the ball on the ground and I'm going to have a chance to win today."
John Flaherty and Wade Boggs each had two RBIs for the Devil Rays, who had lost the first two games of the four-game set.
The Royals, who have the major leagues' worst home record (23-39), committed two errors and played poorly the entire four games.
"It seems like we're waiting for something wrong to happen," said outfielder Johnny Damon. "And it seems like it happens every night. The first two games, we tried to blow them too. It's like a time bomb ticking."
Tim Belcher (11-10), who had won six of eight decisions, went six innings, giving up 10 hits and seven runs, with four walks and one strikeout.
Flaherty's bases-loaded single scored two runs in the second, before Quinton McCracken scored on Randy Winn's infield out.
In the fourth, McCracken walked and scored on Aaron Ledesma's double.
Ledesma went to third on a single by Winn and scored on Boggsdouble. Bobby Smith singled in Boggs with Tampa Bay's sixth run.
The Royals got a run in the first on Terry Pendleton's RBI single and another in the fourth on an RBI double by Mendy Lopez. Sal Fasano hit his sixth homer in the ninth off Esteban Yan.
Ledesma had three hits, including two doubles, and scored on Boggs' RBI single in the sixth to make it 7-2. Smith scored the Devil Rays' last run in the ninth on Fred McGriff's double and second baseman Jose Offerman's error.
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