Devil Rays 7, Tigers 4

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DETROIT (AP)—The Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Detroit Tigers took small steps toward respectability this season.

Tampa Bay set a franchise record with their 70th victory, beating Detroit 7-4 on Sunday behind rookie outfielder Matt Diaz and veteran pitcher John Halama.

The Devil Rays (70-91) won two of three against the Tigers in the season-ending series to surpass the 69 wins they reached two other times since beginning play in 1998. With their win Friday, they avoided last place in the AL East for the first time—finishing ahead of Toronto (67-94).

“We’re pleased. We got out of the cellar and we won 70 ballgames,” manager Lou Piniella said. “Those are modest steps forward. Now we need to improve the team over the winter.”

In the other clubhouse, the Tigers were almost saying the same things.

Detroit (72-90) bounced back with a relatively respectable season— improving by 29 victories—after losing an AL-record 119 games in 2003.

“We’re on the map. We’ve turned the corner,” manager Alan Trammell said. “But we don’t want to get content.”

Diaz hit a two-run triple in a four-run third inning. Halama (7-6) gave up two runs on seven hits and no walks through five innings in his second straight start after spending more than half the year in the bullpen.

“Lou predicted 70 wins and we got there,” Halama said. “We would have liked more, but this is an accomplishment.”

Nate Robertson (12-10) gave up six runs—five earned—on 10 hits while striking out six in five innings. He went 0-3 in his last six starts after winning three straight games in late August.

“Nate technically was not a rookie this year, but really he was,” Trammell said. “This guy is a winner and it’ll pay off in the long run.”

Tampa Bay led 5-0 after scoring against Robertson in each of the first three innings.

Rocco Baldelli, Geoff Blum, Aubrey Huff and Jose Cruz Jr. had RBI singles before Diaz’s standup triple scored Huff and Cruz in the third.

“That’s a nice way to end the season—win the last game on a beautiful day and set a record for wins,” Baldelli said. “Coming in last isn’t any fun. Fourth isn’t great, but it is nice to play out the season and not end up on the bottom of the pack.”

Detroit’s Brandon Inge hit his 13th homer in the fourth, making it 5-1.

Both Tampa Bay and Detroit had reasons to feel good about their lowly teams.

Tampa Bay won 11 of its last 23 games after losing 12 straight, the longest skid in Piniella’s 18 seasons as a manager. The Devil Rays won 12 straight in June to help them climb to two games over .500 on July 3 after being 10-28 on May 19.

The Tigers surpassed their 2003 victory total of 43 in their 91st game, easily setting a record for fewest games needed to overtake a win total from the previous year.

Fans responded to their comeback. Detroit drew 1,917,004 fans, a 40.1 percent increase from last season.

“I know first-hand what kind of fans we have,” said Trammell, who helped Detroit win the 1984 World Series as a star shortstop. “This summer with the electricity in the stands, I told my guys that this is what it can be like—on a regular basis.”

Notes

The Devil Rays played 161 games because their game on Sept. 26 against Toronto was canceled due to Hurricane Jeanne. … Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford is scheduled to have an MRI on his bruised left knee Monday. Crawford was injured Saturday night while sliding into first. … Detroit 3B Eric Munson injured his right calf on a popup in the eighth. … The Tigers will retain Trammell’s coaching staff next season. … Robertson led Detroit in victories, one more than Mike Maroth and Jeremy Bonderman, who both were 11-13.

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