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News » Al East champion Rays fall to Tigers 2008-09-28

Al East champion Rays fall to Tigers 2008-09-28

Al East champion Rays fall to Tigers 2008-09-28
DETROIT (AP) - The Tampa Bay Rays have played a lot of meaningless late-September games in their history.

Saturday, though, was a little different.

Hours after a late-night celebration of the first division title in franchise history, the Rays lost 4-3 to the Detroit Tigers.

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"We wanted to win today — there's never a game where you feel good walking back after a loss — but clinching meant that I could manage this more like a spring-training game," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon. "I did some things that I normally wouldn't do."

Maddon rested starters B.J. Upton, Akinori Iwamura and Carlos Pena and took Matt Garza out after just five innings and 74 pitches.

The first pitch came less than 18 hours after the Rays celebrated clinching the AL East when the Yankees beat the Red Sox in a rain-delayed game that ended well after midnight.

"It was tough out there today, but it was worth it," said Garza. "I didn't get everything I wanted out of tonight - I would have liked to have left with a lead - but I was able to throw 74 good pitches where I wanted them and get in some good work."

One thing that Garza did accomplish was to avoid allowing Gary Sheffield's 500th homer. Sheffield went 0-2 with two walks and remains at 499.

"You joke about not wanting to be the one, but I wasn't too worried about it," Garza said. "After all, he's gotten about 499 other guys, so I'd have a lot of company."

Sheffield will have one or two more chances at reaching 500 this season, depending on whether the Tigers have to go to Chicago for a makeup game on Monday.

"I thought about going for the big swing a couple times tonight, but that's not how you play the game," Sheffield said.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland said that he'll bat Sheffield second against Tampa Bay on Sunday to give him as many plate appearances as possible - the first time he'll have batted in that spot in the order since July 14, 1990, with Milwaukee.

While a third straight win was nice for the Tigers, the best news might have been the encouraging performance of Dontrelle Willis. In his last start of a lost season, Willis allowed three runs and four hits with three walks in a season-best 5 1-3 innings.

"I was able to go deeper than the first inning, which was a good thing," said Willis, who gave up two runs in the first. "The fans were booing me in the first inning and cheering me in the sixth, which meant a lot to me."

It was the first time in eight appearances this season that he had pitched more than one inning without walking at least five batters.

"He kept his composure and didn't let the game get away from him," Leyland said. "It's progress. That's how I look at it."

Aquilino Lopez (4-1) picked up the win with 2 2-3 scoreless innings of relief, while Fernando Rodney pitched the ninth for his 13th save.

Willis struggled at the start, walking Fernando Perez and giving up a single to Ben Zobrist. He struck out Evan Longoria, but Rocco Baldelli followed with a two-run double.

Cabrera's 37th homer made it 2-1 in the second, but Zobrist's third home run in three days restored Tampa Bay's two-run lead in the top of the fifth.

Detroit tied the game in the bottom of the inning on Brandon Inge's sacrifice fly and a RBI single by Magglio Ordonez, but the Tigers retook the lead off Jeff Niemann in the sixth when Sheffield walked, stole second, took third on catcher Michel Hernandez's throwing error and scored on Edgar Renteria's two-out double.

Detroit loaded the bases with no one out in the eighth on Cabrera's double, a Sheffield walk and Dane Sardinha's bunt single, but Niemann (2-2) got out of it with a strikeout and a double play.

"Normally, you'd go to the bullpen - you wouldn't leave a rookie out there with the bases loaded and no one out," Maddon said. "But because of the circumstances, I could give him a chance to get out of it, and he did. That can be a huge moment for a kid like that."

Notes: Willis, who struck out a season-best five, finished the season 0-2 record with a 9.38 ERA and 35 walks in 24 innings. He also pitched in Class-A and Triple-A in an attempt to regain his former All-Star form. ... The Tigers honored retiring closer Todd Jones in a pregame ceremony. Jones started his speech by congratulating the Rays, who signed him as a free agent in 2004 but released him in spring training. ... The sellout crowd of 40,756 increased Detroit's club-record attendance to 3,162,281. ... Inge, who has started at catcher, third base and center field this season, made his first error of the year when he dropped a routine pop in the eighth.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: September 28, 2008

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