It's a Winn
Randy Winn's dramatic HR lifts Rays 6-4, ends the skid at 15.
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 12, 2002
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays couldn't have come up with a happier ending.
Randy Winn, center, is surrounded by rejoicing teammates after his three-run homer in the ninth inning.
As their losing streak had grown to 15 games, longest in the majors in 13 years, the Rays grew increasingly frustrated. Every wasted opportunity seemed fatal. Every mistake costly. Every late-inning comeback unsuccessful. As much as they said they didn't think about the streak, it tormented them daily.
One strike from another defeat Saturday night, the Rays instead ended their dismal losing streak in dramatic fashion, beating the Orioles 6-4 on Randy Winn's three-run home run with two outs in the ninth inning.
When it was over, a Bon Jovi CD blared in the Rays clubhouse. Managing general partner Vince Naimoli, who had made a rare pregame visit to the clubhouse for a bowl of lucky bean soup, stood clutching Winn's home run ball like a proud father and quoting Churchill. Winn found himself in the unprecedented position of explaining he didn't hear the fans chanting his name for a curtain call.
"It's a big relief so we don't have to hear about it," Winn said. "The more it went on it seemed the more people jumped in and wanted to talk about it. To not have to talk about it is a big relief. It's not always fun to dwell on the negative."
As the players enjoyed the end of streak which had them headed for national embarrassment (a dozen fans wore paper bags on their head Saturday), manager Hal McRae was looking ahead, realizing that one win in 16 games isn't much different than none.
"It's nice to get some relief, but for me it's on to tomorrow," McRae said. "We're going to try to put something together and show people what we're made of. Everybody knew what we were about when we were losing because it was all over TV and all over the newspapers. So this is our moment to shine and show people what we're really made of."
They showed something on Saturday, overcoming a series of wasted opportunities early and an ineffective start by Tanyon Sturtze to rally from a 4-0 deficit.
They stayed in the game by scoring once in the fifth and seventh as rookie Jorge Sosa provided two impressive innings of relief. When Esteban Yan escaped a selfmade jam in the top of the ninth, the Rays were poised for a dramatic comeback before something less than the paid crowd of 10,811, scoring their first ninth-inning runs of the season.
Pinch-hitter Jason Tyner, coming off the bench with one hit in his past 15 at-bats, singled through the left side to open the ninth. Chris Gomez, who hit into a double play in a crucial situation on Friday, hit a grounder that shortstop Mike Bordick dived and gloved, but Tyner slid hard to beat his throw to second.
Suddenly, it looked like they might fail again.
John Flaherty, who had doubled twice earlier, popped up a bunt and the Orioles forced Tyner at third.
"I thought the bunt attempt was going to sink us," McRae said. "Before when we didn't execute or we made mistakes things didn't go our way. I didn't think the ball Winn hit was going to go out when he hit it.
"Maybe the worm has turned. Maybe we're going to get some breaks now. When we make mistakes and when we have missed opportunities we won't lose a ballgame."
After Jared Sandberg was caught looking for the second out, Brent Abernathy, with three three-hit games in the past week, came to the rescue again with a single to right, scoring Gomez to make it 4-3.
With closer Jorge Julio throwing 98-mph fastballs, Winn said he was just looking for a pitch to hit hard, especially when the count got to 2-and-2. To hit a towering drive out of the park, and 406 feet to one of the deepest parts, wasn't even a thought.
"I was praying," Winn said. "Honestly, I haven't hit enough balls out to know if they're going out. I was just hoping, and I was talking to the ball, "Get up! Get up!' and it did."
"It was up there forever," Tyner said. "It seemed like it was never going to come down. The way things have been going, you naturally thought they were going to catch it, it was going to hit something, they were going to miss a call."
Winn said it was the first time he'd hit a game-ending home run at any level of play. "Good timing, huh?" he said.
As bad as the results were, the Rays didn't play that badly during the streak, losing 10 by one or two runs. And that was part of the lesson they say their learned during the 21/2-week stretch.
"It took one big hit by Randy," Flaherty said. "This was the same type of game we've been playing for two weeks, but we haven't been able to get the big hits."
"It was frustrating because the games were usually right there," Winn said. "We were just one hit away, one pitch away and we just hadn't come through. Being that close that many times it was just frustrating. But I believed in us and I thought we'd eventually win a game."
Saturday night, they were more than happy to put the past behind them.
McRae said the most important thing the Rays have to do is play well again today.
"Tonight doesn't mean nothing if we don't play good tomorrow," McRae said.
"If we keep playing the way we've been playing and can get an extra break here or an extra hit there, we're going to start winning a lot of ballgames," Abernathy said.
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