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Yankees tell Rays: Take a cold shower

YANKEES 3, RAYS 0: Once-hot Tampa Bay is shut out for second straight game.

[AP photo]
Wilson Alvarez on his first moment on the mound: "Thank God. It's great to be here again."

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 7, 2002

NEW YORK -- They've been cursed at, snowed on, beat up and shut down for two days. Saturday, after a 3-0 loss to the Yankees, they couldn't even get a hot shower.

"Look at it this way," second baseman Brent Abernathy said. "We're facing Roger Clemens (today) and things can only get better, believe it or not."

The Rays brought their 3-0 start and a load of confidence to New York, but haven't fared too well in the big city. Between the near-freezing temperatures and the sizzling Yankees pitching, they can't get even a spark of offense going. They've gone 21 innings, two shy of the team record, without a run.

After three hits in a 4-0 loss Friday, they got three -- just one in eight innings off Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez -- in Saturday's game, which marked Wilson Alvarez's successful return to the mound after a 2 1/2-year absence.

"The last two days have been pitching," Rays manager Hal McRae said. "It has nothing to do with our hitters. Not to say we can't do better if the opposition pitches as well as they did the last couple days, but it's been strictly pitching."

Rightfielder Ben Grieve said the lack of offense is from a combination of things.

"Their pitching obviously has been outstanding and I don't think we're swinging the bats that great," Grieve said. "It might be the change in climate, it might be the change in venue. We've been in Florida for two months and it's a little different in colder weather.

"Their pitching has been pretty good, but not to the point where you can't do something. We haven't even come close."

At the least, the idea when facing strong pitching is to be sure to capitalize on the mistakes. The hope is that the pitchers make some.

"Hopefully, we get better pitches to hit," McRae said. "Hopefully, the pitchers don't make as many good pitches. They made some tough pitches on us."

Seemingly not bothered by the cold as much as the Rays pitchers were, Hernandez was brutally tough, mixing his repertoire, speeds and targets.

"El Duque was outstanding," McRae said. "He had good command and a good breaking ball. We chased some bad pitches up and off the plate, but it was by design. He threw the ball where he wanted to throw it."

Said Greg Vaughn: "He put 'em where he had to put 'em."

Hernandez was so tough, McRae said he was actually pleased to see star reliever Mariano Rivera pitch the ninth.

And when the Rays got two singles and Vaughn to the plate as the tying run with one out, it looked as if they had a chance. But Vaughn and Toby Hall were called out on strikes, and there really wasn't much to be made from their brief comeback bid.

"When you look at it, the hits off (Rivera) were both bloopers," Steve Cox said. "It's not like we had better at-bats off him. We just got luckier basically."

After missing the last two seasons because of shoulder problems, Alvarez just wanted to get back on the mound and throw a pitch.

He actually threw 100, though he lasted just 4 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits and four walks, primarily because his command wasn't sharp, due in part to the cold weather. He left more than a few pitches up and the Yankees hit them far and hard, though only Ron Coomer's second-inning blast left the park.

"I was just happy to be out there," Alvarez said. "I think I got a little excited trying to overthrow the ball, trying to strike everybody out. That's when I got in trouble."

What Alvarez did best was keep the Rays in the game. Unfortunately, his teammates really couldn't do anything to make a game of it until the last inning. "Just not a good day," Jason Tyner said.

Having been shut out in back-to-back games for just the second time in team history, the Rays now must beat Clemens, the six-time Cy Young Award winner who is sure to be equally motivated by a poor opening night performance and two losses to the Rays last year.

"I don't think we're frustrated, I think we know we've been pitched well and we have to come out (today) and hope the pitcher doesn't pitch as well. They don't have to pitch well because they have a reputation," McRae said.

"We've just got to come out with the same attitude and play hard and hope we get some hits. Hits have been hard to come by."

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