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Hot streak aside, role is defined for Flaherty

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 13, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- John Flaherty knows he's the ghost of Rays catchers past, no matter how good four doubles in his first back-to-back starts looked last weekend.

Toby Hall, 26 is the starter. Period. So when Flaherty, 34, plays his two games a week, he is performing as much for scouts as the Rays.

"Right now, when I get in there I'm trying to showcase what I can do for this team, hopefully to get a win, and there's always people watching," he said after going 2-for-3 with two doubles and two RBIs on Sunday. "We'll see how the whole thing ends up."

When the Rays begin a 12-game road trip in New York on Tuesday, that's on the bench, although during the weekend Flaherty raised his batting average to .296 (in eight games). Hall, who was impressive in batting .298 in 49 games after his call-up in July, is stuck at .189 in 29 games.

"Toby's going to catch five days a week for a while," manager Hal McRae said. "I don't know how long we're going to go with that, but for now, that was the plan going into the season and it's too early to make any changes. John deserves to play, but Toby's the guy."

BATTLE: Starter Paul Wilson battled misfortune early and lack of command for all seven of his innings Sunday, but improved to 2-3 and lowered his ERA to 3.42 after allowing three runs (one earned) on nine hits and two walks. He struck out four. The first batter reached every inning until the fifth and Wilson had one 1-2-3 inning. He allowed three runs in the first, but two were unearned.

"The last four innings were better than the first three, for sure," he said. "I must have pitched out of the windup to about five batters because every time I turned around there was a guy on first or second.

"I got better in the fourth, started throwing my four-seamer more. I think that really helped me out with my sinker because my sinker wasn't very good the first part of the ballgame."

YAN RETURNS: Esteban Yan earned his first save since April 23 in a scoreless ninth, hopefully, McRae said, wresting control of the closer position again.

"I have my confidence back and I want the team to keep believing in me," Yan said. "I want to show I can keep the job and be better again."

Yan, who has five saves in six chances, had allowed six runs on seven hits (two homers) and four walks in the four outings before earning the win on Saturday. His ERA had swollen to 6.57. The crash came April 25 in Minnesota, when he entered in the ninth with a 2-1 lead and allowed five runs to take a 6-2 loss.

"He needs to win that job back and I need him to win the job back," McRae said. "I want him to have the job, but he has to earn it. We're a better ballclub if he's closing and the younger guys are pitching setup."

BIG FINISH: Twenty-nine times teams have had losing streaks of at least 15 games, but the Rays made their's unique. Randy Winn's winning shot with two out in the ninth Saturday was the first walkoff homer to snap one of those slides.

RAYS BITS: They won in consecutive games for the first time since April 21-24 and took their first series since winning two of three against Minnesota on April 23-25. ... Second baseman Brent Abernathy tied a club record for most hits in a three-game series (eight). He led all Rays by batting .342 with five extra-base hits on the 10-game homestand. ... Winn's fourth-inning outfield assist added to his American League-leading total of six.

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