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Win-win situation

RAYS 6, ORIOLES 3: After another victory, hopes center on confidence.

[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
John Flaherty puts the tag on Baltimore's Brook Fordyce at the plate in the fourth, after Randy Winn's throw from rightfield.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 13, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- As big as it was for the Rays to snap their 15-game losing streak on Saturday, it may have been just as important for them to win again on Sunday.

And having to overcome a sloppy start that left them behind by three runs before the season-low crowd of 10,264 settled in made the 6-3 victory against Baltimore even better.

"It was not a necessity, but we need to build some momentum, and the only way to build some momentum is to win baseball games," manager Hal McRae said. "We've won two in a row and the guys are feeling better and we have to continue to play the way we've played.

[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Middle infielders Felix Escalona, left, and Brent Abernathy come off the field after the Rays won a series for the first time since April 25.
"If we take one step forward and two back, we don't build the confidence that's needed. And we have to rebuild some of that confidence because some of that confidence was lost during the losing streak."

The Rays did it by playing one of their best complete games in weeks. During most of the losing streak, they did some things well and some things badly. After a shaky first inning Sunday, they seemed to do everything right.

Paul Wilson battled through seven innings, allowing nine hits but one earned run, to win for the first time since April 10.

John Flaherty, making the most of back-to-back starts, drove in two runs and scored two. Jared Sandberg snapped an 0-for-15 streak with a run-scoring double. Felix Escalona had a big hit and a bigger defensive play on a ninth-inning grounder.

Saturday streak-breaker Randy Winn threw a man out at the plate, his AL-leading sixth assist, and made a sliding catch in the eighth. Victor Zambrano worked a clean eighth inning and Esteban Yan, with only a little of the obligatory anxiety, picked up his first save since April 23.

"It was real big not just because we won, but the way we won," said Steve Cox, whose first-inning run-scoring double helped the Rays back into the game. "We got some clutch hitting, good pitching, the bullpen did well. It was one of those all-around good games. To have everything working at once is kind of nice."

As the Rays leave tonight for a challenging 12-game, 13-day trip to New York, Baltimore, Seattle and Oakland, they do so not only with some confidence and a dash of momentum but with the feeling that after 21/2 brutally long weeks, things -- bounces, breaks, even umpires' calls -- may be going their way again.

With Baltimore up 3-2 in the fourth, Melvin Mora appeared to beat out an infield hit that would have put men on first and second with one away, but was called out. And when Flaherty had to reach for Winn's throw a batter later, it appeared Brook Fordyce got his foot on the plate before Flaherty applied the tag, but he too was called out.

"After having two weeks of seeing nothing but things go other teams' way, when you finally get a break or two you really enjoy seeing it," Brent Abernathy said.

The start of the game wasn't much to see, not that there were many at Tropicana Field to see it.

Mora slapped at the first pitch and reached on Sandberg's error at third. Chris Singleton singled. Mora stole third when Sandberg was late to cover. With one out, Jay Gibbons singled in a run. Tony Batista blooped a single that scored another. Wilson bounced a pitch to advance the runners. Marty Cordova's groundout scored Gibbons with a third run.

"It didn't look real good," Flaherty said. "But I didn't sense any panic. (Saturday) night's hit really took a lot of pressure off us, and you feel it today. We were pretty relaxed all the way through and it worked out for us."

The three-run deficit was the largest the Rays have overcome for victory this season. And while two wins out of 17 games is hardly anything to be proud of, it gives the Rays something to build with as they continue a brutal May schedule. "A good start," McRae said.

"Obviously it doesn't change the fact that we had two bad weeks in a row, but at the same time we can learn from that and maybe it won't happen again," Abernathy said. "Maybe we'll keep finding ways to win now. We're starting to get some breaks and we're taking advantage of some of the breaks. That's what winning clubs do."

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