Memorial Day at the Network Associates Coliseum featured a pair of last place teams in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Oakland Athletics. For Tampa Bay, this wasn't unusual, but Oakland, but the A's had made the playoffs four straight seasons from 2000-2003 and just missed out in 2004. But injuries and ineffectiveness by the pitching staff had gotten Oakland off to a 17-32 start and they were already 12 1/2 games out of first. But the return of shortstop Bobby Crosby from injury gave Oakland a ray of hope and Oakland was able to rally late and win in 11 innings 5-4 before a crowd of 25,921.
Oakland got out front in the first on a solo homer by left fielder Bobby Kielty. But the Devil Rays came back with three in the top of the second. Center fielder Damon Hollins hit a 2-run homer and Julio Lugo added an RBI single.
Tampa Bay got three straight hits, including an RBI double by Aubrey Huff, but only one run as Lugo made an out on the bases. Keiichi Yabu came in to relieve and struck out designated hitter Josh Phelps to end the inning.
Kazmir had a fairly easy seven innings, surrendering just three hits, although he did walk four. Former A's prospect Jesus Colome came into relieve in the eighth. Catcher Jason Kendall reached on an error by Lugo and center fielder Mark Kotsay followed with a double to send Kendall to third. Kielty grounded out to first to score Kendall and it was 4-2 Tampa Bay. Lefty Trever Miller came into face Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez, who singled in Kotsay to make it 4-3. Lance Carter came in to relieve Miller and got pinch hitter Scott Hatteberg to ground into a double play.
Danys Baez came in to try to close it out for Tampa Bay in the ninth. Baez struck out first baseman Dan Johnson and then Crosby to start the ninth. But right fielder Nick Swisher singled to center to keep the game going. Charles Thomas ran for Swisher. Adam Melhuse came up to pinch hit for second baseman Mark Ellis and he singled to center to send Thomas to third. But Baez still just needed one out and had Kendall at the plate. Acquired from the Pirates in the offseason, Kendall was not tearing up the AL, batting in the .240 range with no power. But he came through with a single to let to score Thomas with the tying run. Baez walked Kotsay to load the bases, but Kielty missed a chance to win the game in the ninth when he flied out to center.
Neither team scored in the tenth. With one out in the 11th, Thomas singled to left (he would go 5 for 46 in 2005) and Marco Scutaro, who had replaced Ellis at second, singled Thomas to third. Kendall hit a grounder to Huff at third, who threw to the plate and retired Thomas in a rundown. But Kotsay ended the game with a single to center to score Scutaro and end the 3:53 game.
Oakland would go 7-20 in May, but would go 39-14 in June and July to get back into the race. The A's gave the Angels a run for the money, but slumped down the stretch and finished 88-74, 7 games behind the first place Angels. Blanton, after his bad start, finished the year 12-12 with a 3.53 ERA. Huston Street, the winning pitcher on this day, would take over the closer job in the bullpen and win the Rookie of the Year Award. Street saved 23 games with a 1.72 ERA. Justin Duchscherer, the A's lone All Star representative, had a 7-4 record and a 2.21 ERA out of the bullpen. Oakland's offense had the problem that it had to carry around the millstone of Kendall. He had 676 plate appearances and had just 29 extra base hits, none of them home runs. Crosby, the 2004 Rookie of the year, played in just 84 games.
Tampa Bay, which had avoided the cellar for the first time in franchise history in 2004, finished in last place in 2005 at 67-95. The pitching staff had an ERA of 5.39 and with the exception of Kazmir, who finished with an ERA of 3.77, and Baez, who saved 41 games with a 2.86 ERA, it was not a memorable staff. And that is sort of damning with faint praise. The game that exemplified the D-Rays season came on June 21 in New York when Tampa Bay's bullpen blew an 11-7 lead in the eighth and saw the Yankees score 13 runs in the inning. Surprisingly, the Devil Rays had a winning record (11-8) against the AL East champion Yankees in 2005. Carl Crawford led the AL in triples with 15 ad Jorge Cantu had a big year with 28 home runs. Jonny Gomes hit 21 home runs in just 101 games. Nevertheless, Piniella had seen enough and he and the Devil Rays parted company at the end of the season.
Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, Retrosheet, Baseball-Reference.com