Sosa gratified by Wrigley crowd support

CHICAGO (AP) -- Stung by criticism for using a corked bat and
facing a suspension, Sammy Sosa found refuge in a familiar place
Wednesday night.

Wrigley Field was all forgiving, cheering the Chicago Cubs star,
even as he went 1-for-4 with three strikeouts during a 5-2 loss to
the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Many of the announced crowd of 33,317 applauded him as he
sprinted to his position in right field and gave him a standing
ovation when he came to the plate in the first before striking out.
Only a few scattered boos could be heard.

One sign in the bleachers said: "Still Lovin Sammy.''

"They know everything I say after the accident happened was
right. They understand,'' Sosa said.

"They know that I am an innocent person. When I went to right
field, everybody was cheering for me. I feel very happy inside.
It's something I'm never going to forget.''

Seventy-six of Sosa's bats confiscated Tuesday night were
X-rayed and no foreign substance was discovered, and the Cubs star
is sticking to his story -- he mistakenly grabbed a corked batting
practice bat that shattered in the first inning Tuesday.

But right now Sosa isn't hitting much, regardless of what bat he
uses. He did have a ninth-inning single Wednesday but is 3-for-20
in five games since coming off the disabled list last Friday and
has struck out 11 times.

"I'm going to hit, there's no question about it,'' Sosa said,
adding that his concentration is not affected by possibility of a

"Whatever they decide to do, I have to deal with it,'' he said.

All of Sosa's bats were returned to him after they were tested.

"They took 76 bats out of my locker and everything was the way
I explained,'' he said.

Cubs manager Dusty Baker said Sosa deserved the ovation,
"especially with the fact they didn't find anything except that
one bat yesterday.''

"Like I said, you've got to give a guy a hearing before you
convict him,'' Baker added. "If you don't find something in
70-some bats ... Hopefully he'll be exonerated for that one event

The Devil Rays got solid pitching from right-hander Victor Zambrano (2-3), who allowed just three hits in seven innings and
struck out a career-high eight, including Sosa all three times.

"To be honest I don't think about it being Sosa or somebody
else, I was just throwing my pitches to any hitter that stood in
the box,'' Zambrano said.

"It was no big difference for me.''

Tampa Bay took a 4-0 lead with three in the third. Rocco Baldelli reached on a bunt single and scored on Aubrey Huff's
double, one of his four hits. Shawn Estes then walked Travis Lee
and Terry Shumpert to load the bases and Carl Crawford hit a
two-run single.

The Devil Rays got their first run in the first when Anderson
doubled and scored as Huff hit an infield single just off the side
of the mound and Estes' throw to the plate was dropped by catcher
Paul Bako for an error.

The Cubs reached Zambrano for a run in the fourth on Alex Gonzalez's double and an RBI single by Moises Alou.

Tampa Bay's Toby Hall added a sacrifice fly in the seventh.

Estes (5-5) allowed eight hits and five runs in seven innings.

Game notes
The Devil Rays released Damion Easley after the 33-year-old
INF batted just .187 with a homer and seven RBI in 36 games.
Easley signed with Tampa Bay on April 2 after being released by
Detroit on March 28 and was the most expensive player cut loose in
baseball history when the Tigers let him go. He still had $14.3
million left on his contract. Tampa Bay called up infielder Jason Smith from Triple-A Durham. ... Sosa has not homered since May 1, a
span that included a stint on the disabled list.