06/18/08 12:36 AM ET
Cubs drop Piniella's return to the Trop
Dempster goes five strong innings, offense quiet in loss
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Cliff Floyd and Evan Longoria each hit solo homers Tuesday night, and Longoria made a great defensive play for the final out, to lift the Rays to a 3-2 victory over the Cubs.
The Cubs kept the raucous crowd of 31,607 in the game until the end. Trailing 3-1 with one out in the ninth against closer Troy Percival, Mark DeRosa singled and reached third on pinch-hitter Kosuke Fukudome's double. DeRosa then scored on a passed ball during pinch-hitter Micah Hoffpauir's at-bat. One out later, and the ball got away from catcher Dioner Navarro on the second pitch to pinch-hitter Jim Edmonds, but Fukudome held up.
"I was ready and prepared to go if there was a passed ball or wild pitch," Fukudome said, "but the ball came right back at him, and if I make an out at home plate, it's the last out. So that's why I didn't go."
"The ball came right back to the catcher," Piniella said. "It came back there quick. I think he made the right play staying at third base."
Edmonds walked, and Reed Johnson then bunted against Percival. Longoria retrieved the ball and fired to first baseman Willy Aybar in time for the out.
"I didn't call the bunt," Piniella said. "He probably thought he could get the third baseman napping. As it was, the kid came in and barehanded it, and the first baseman made a real nice catch on the ball on the hop."
"Some guys in the dugout were saying [Tampa manager Joe] Maddon was trying to get Longoria's attention right at the end," Johnson said. "I saw that he had started back, and I wanted to get in the box and lay the bunt down. I knew he was going to throw me a first-pitch fastball. I knew he wanted to get ahead in that situation.
"It's something I've done in the past," he said. "They haven't seen it much in Chicago because I haven't been given the opportunity. I figured it was a good play if I got it in a good area, and I guess it was a good play.
"The first baseman made a good play, and knew he was going to sacrifice himself and get hit in that situation," Johnson continued. "He kind of backed up to the middle of the bag. I had no choice but to get to the middle of the base in case he dropped it, and it didn't work out."
Longoria was surprised by the play.
"In the back of my mind, I really didn't think he was going to bunt," Longoria said.
"That was probably the best bunt play I've ever seen," Percival said.
Johnson collided with Aybar, and was a little shaken up on the play, suffering from spasms in his back.
"Hopefully, it clears up," he said.
Johnson also tried to make things happen in the seventh. He doubled with two outs, but was thrown out trying to steal third to end the inning.
"That's a bad play on my part," Johnson said. "I got the green light in that situation, but with two outs and the top of the order coming [up], you have to make sure you can make it. It was a bad job on my part.
"Who knows? If I make it there, or I don't run in that situation, [Ryan] Theriot might get a hit and we have our three and four hitters up," Johnson said. "It's not a good time to get thrown out -- everybody knows the cardinal rule of getting thrown out at third base with two outs. Nobody felt worse than I did when it happened."
Johnson had seen the Rays' second baseman back up a little, and thought he had an opening.
"There was no problem with it," Piniella said. "He just got a bad jump."
Stuff happens. Chicago starter Ryan Dempster remains winless in six road starts, and shaved his beard off after the game in hopes of a fresh start. He gave up one run on six hits and two walks over five innings, and struck out five. One of those hits was a solo homer by Floyd, his former teammate, with two outs in the second off a 1-2 pitch.
"What are you going to do? I hung a split, and he hit it out," Dempster said.
Tampa Bay loaded the bases with one out in the third, but Dempster escaped, getting B.J. Upton to hit a comebacker for a force at home and striking out Eric Hinske. Hinske also was called out on strikes to end the fifth, stranding two more, although he disagreed with home-plate umpire Paul Schrieber's call. Hinske did come through in the seventh with a one-out RBI single.
"I felt good," Dempster said. "There were just a lot of deep counts. They fouled off a lot of pitches today, and I got my pitch count up. I just have to be a little more economical the next time."
The Cubs had runners at first and second with two outs in the fifth when Theriot bounced a single past a diving Aybar and over second baseman Akinori Iwamura to drive in a run and tie the game. Derrek Lee then walked to load the bases and chase starter Scott Kazmir. Grant Balfour then struck out Aramis Ramirez to end the inning.
Longoria ended an 0-for-14 streak, and the deadlock, when he smacked Neal Cotts' first pitch over the fence in right-center field to lead off the sixth, just missing the tank loaded with live rays. Cotts (0-1) took the loss.
This was the Cubs' first game at noisy Tropicana Field, and they are 60-51-1 in first appearances at Major League parks. That includes a loss in the first game at the Nationals' new digs in Washington in April.
"Tampa Bay's been playing very well at home, and I think we'd rather tackle them in Wrigley, but here we are," Piniella said.
The Cubs evened their Interleague record at 2-2 this season, and are now 2-2 all-time against Tampa Bay. The last time these two teams met was in June 2003, when Piniella was Tampa Bay's manager and Sammy Sosa was caught using a corked bat. Now, Piniella is the visitor in his hometown, and Sosa is unofficially retired.
Despite the loss, the Cubs still boast the best record in the National League.
"We do the best we can," Piniella said. "Lose a ballgame, come out the next day and do your darndest to win again -- that's all you can do, and that's all I can expect. We've been fortunate."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.