Tampa Bay Rays
Reliable Relievers Not Quite On In Finale
PHILADELPHIA - J.P. Howell sat facing his locker stall, his head bowed and his hands pulling on the back of his neck. Fellow Rays pitcher Edwin Jackson grabbed him by the shoulders and offered encouragement. Shortstop Reid Brignac followed with a quiet chat. Around the room, other Rays talked not about Howell and the bullpen faltering in Wednesday night's 4-3 World Series-ending loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, but how much Tampa Bay's relievers did throughout the season. "We wouldn't have even made the playoffs if it wasn't for those guys," starting pitcher Scott Kazmir said. "We called on them to bail us out, and they came through so many times."Utility man Ben Zobrist agreed. "Those guys have nothing to hang their heads about," he said. Still, because everything is magnified in the postseason, a bullpen that went from being baseball's worst to one of the best in 2008 will have to live down blowing a seven-run lead against Boston in the ALCS, getting lit up in one World Series game and not recording the critical outs Wednesday night. "It's the worst way we could have gone out," Howell said after composing himself. "To have a shot at getting a ring and enjoying life this offseason ... and come up short, it's tough. We need to remember this." When Game 5 resumed after a 46-hour delay, Grant Balfour and Howell each gave up leadoff doubles in the sixth and seventh innings that led to Philly runs. Balfour got beat by pinch-hitter Geoff Jenkins, who scored when Jayson Werth hit a shallow fly ball to center against a drawn-in infield and second baseman Akinori Iwamura couldn't make an over-the-shoulder catch. Howell couldn't keep the winning run from getting on base after Rocco Baldelli's home run tied the game at 3 in the top of the seventh. Pat Burrell, a former No. 1 overall pick from the University of Miami, hit Howell's 80-mph curveball to the wall for a double. Eric Bruntlett pinch ran for Burrell and scored on Pedro Feliz's single off Chad Bradford. "It was a nice piece of hitting," Howell said of Burrell's shot. "He cheated, which is what good hitters do. He knew I was going away with a curveball, and he poked his chin in and got it." Rays manager Joe Maddon may be second-guessed for not starting out Wednesday with rookie sensation David Price, who retired the toughest part of the Phillies' order without too much drama in the eighth. Later, the manager said he liked Balfour against the batters who were due up, including an expected pinch-hitter (Jenkins), and wanted Howell to take the next part of the order, "and then we were going to turn it over to David." The strategy might have worked if Bartlett had scored on Iwamura's single to give the Rays a second run in the seventh and a 4-3 lead. Instead, Bartlett was tagged out at the plate by Carlos Ruiz on a close play. Under that scenario, Price might have gotten the ball with the game tied. The teams might still be playing. "Absolutely all of the stuff that happened, we had planned out before the game," Maddon said. "They just got some very untimely hits."
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