Rays hold on, beat Sox after Zambrano exit

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Devil Rays nearly wasted their best offensive performance of the season.

Jose Cruz Jr. hit a two-run double and Rocco Baldelli had a
two-run single during a six-run third inning against Derek Lowe,
leading the Devil Rays over the Boston Red Sox 9-6 Thursday night.

"It's as good as we've swung the bats -- forget an inning -- in a
ballgame all year," manager Lou Piniella said.

Still, Tampa Bay nearly blew a seven-run lead in ending a five-game losing streak. The six-run third was Tampa Bay's biggest inning this year, but Victor Zambrano's bizarro pitching performance nearly wiped it out.

Zambrano took a seven-run advantage into the fifth, but was pulled with two outs and the Devil Rays up 7-4. Johnny Damon made it 7-6 when he greeted reliever John Halama with a two-run double.

Zambrano walked nine, setting a Devil Rays record, and struck out eighth. He allowed six runs, four hits and hit a batter in 4 2/3 innings. He threw 133 pitches.

"Victor really made it hard on himself," Piniella said. "His
problems aren't physical. It's got to be mental. According to our
pitching coach, he had the best warmup in the bullpen he's had all
year and then to go out there and fight himself like that. It's
something he'll have to overcome."

Jorge Sosa (1-0) threw two scoreless innings for the win. Danys
Baez pitched the ninth for his fifth save.

The Devil Rays (11-28) will look to win consecutive games for
the first time Friday against Cleveland. They are the 11th team to
go 39 games or more into the season without two straight wins. It was just the second win in 14 games for the Devil Rays.

"It doesn't matter how good they are or how ugly they are, as
long as we win, that's what counts," Geoff Blum said.

Lowe (3-4) lasted a season-low 2 1/3 innings, giving up seven
runs and eight hits. He gave up hits to his final seven batters,
all coming in Tampa Bay's six-run third. He went 2 2/3 innings in
an April 18 loss to the New York Yankees.

"Too many balls down the middle," Lowe said.

Lowe is winless in his last four starts, including three losses.
He has allowed 37 runs -- 27 earned -- and 57 hits in 40 1/3 innings
this season.

"The best word I can say is searching," Boston manager Terry
Francona said. "He's a little frustrated. It will get better."

Mark Bellhorn and David Ortiz walked with the bases loaded in a
three-run fourth that pulled Boston to 7-3. Zambrano threw
45-pitches in the inning.

Jason Varitek hit a solo homer in Boston's three-run fifth as
the Red Sox narrowed the deficit to 7-6.

Tampa Bay took an 8-6 lead in the bottom half on Jonny Gomes'
RBI single. Brook Fordyce made it a three-run game with a
run-scoring single in the seventh.

Zambrano walked three and struck out three during a 30-pitch
first. The Red Sox failed to score when Varitek struck out with the
bases loaded and two outs.

The Devil Rays went up 1-0 on Aubrey Huff's RBI grounder in the
bottom of the inning.

Boston's Manny Ramirez was involved in a strange double play in
the third. With Bellhorn running on the pitch from first base,
Ramirez struck out swinging. On his follow through, Ramirez
interfered with catcher Fordyce's throw, so Bellhorn was called

Ramirez, who entered hitting .368, went 0-for-5 with four
strikeouts, dropping his average to .357.

Game notes
Zambrano leads the AL with 44 walks. ... Boston 3B Bill
Mueller was scratched from the lineup with a sore right knee. It
will be examined Friday in Boston. ... The status of Red Sox SS
Nomar Garciaparra (right Achillies' tendon) will be re-evaluated
Friday. Garciaparra has been taking part in simulated games at
Fenway Park. ... Tampa Bay 1B-DH Fred McGriff went 0-for-4 in his
season debut with Triple-A Durham. He had been working out on his
own since the end of spring training. McGriff, nine homers short of
500, could join the Devil Rays by the end of the month.