TORONTO - In a season-ending series between two teams playing for no reason other than the games are on the schedule, any lessons that can be learned are a bonus.
In an otherwise mundane 5-4 Devil Rays loss to the Blue Jays on Friday night, Andy Sonnanstine saw a season-long trend reinforced, giving him one last reminder that he'll need to work something out this winter. At the same time, Jorge Velandia found out he didn't tap out on his power output for the season with a grand slam the other night against the Yankees.
Moments like that, both legitimate and light-hearted, are all that remain for the Rays now that even the most backhanded of accomplishments has been achieved. Thanks to a series of tiebreakers, the Rays guaranteed themselves the top pick in the 2008 draft with Thursday night's loss to the Yankees. Friday's setback, their 95th of the season, merely assured no other team would be able to tie Tampa Bay for the worst record in baseball this year.
So it was left to Sonnanstine to once more face up to a recurring theme as he made his last start of the year in the same building that hosted his major-league debut back on June 6. The right-hander allowed four runs in five-plus innings and was saddled with the loss, but all of the damage came in the latter half of his outing.
'The thing with me this year is I feel like my first time through the lineup I'm cruising,' Sonnanstine said, 'and the next time through it I need to mix it up or do something different, because that's where I'm really getting hurt.'
It isn't just an abstract feeling. In the first three innings this season, opposing batters hit .238 against him (1-for-9 Friday) with four homers and 50 strikeouts. In innings four through six, that batting average skyrocketed to .350 (5-for-11 Friday) with 12 homers and 40 strikeouts.
So it was that a 3-1 Rays lead heading to the bottom of the fifth inning Friday was cut to 3-2 when Matt Stairs homered, then wiped out altogether in the sixth when Frank Thomas and Aaron Hill opened the inning with doubles to drive Sonnanstine from the game.
Rays manager Joe Maddon wanted lefty Jon Switzer to face Adam Lind, who was hitting .182 against southpaws and .255 against right-handers. That statistic lost some of its luster when Switzer hung a slider on his first delivery and the rookie outfielder jacked it out for a lead the Blue Jays wouldn't relinquish.
'He was going along nicely,' Maddon said of Sonnanstine. 'The concern that I have is how in the past sometimes our innings just blow up very fast. I felt good about Switz coming in there on Lind.'
That homer trumped the back-to-back fifth-inning homers that gave Sonnanstine his initial cushion. Velandia got the first one, running into a Dustin McGowan fastball that stayed in the middle of the plate and lifting it out for his second homer in four games. Prior to that, he hadn't homered in 208 major-league at-bats spread over 11 years.
Carlos Pena congratulated Velandia at home plate and hammered McGowan's next pitch down the right-field line for his 45th homer of the year and 12th in September - a Rays record for any month. Credit for that, apparently, went to clubhouse favorite Velandia.
'That was pretty nice,' Velandia said. 'I was just finished giving five and the next thing I know he hits another one. That's pretty cool. When I scored, he goes, 'Give me some of that power,' and I shook his hand.'
Plenty of handshakes remain in the next couple of days, as it's about time to say goodbye.