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Vaughn finally comes through

RAYS 5, O'S 4: The slumping designated hitter hits two homers, his first ones since Aug. 5.

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002

BALTIMORE -- The meeting took place in a corner of the Yankees clubhouse three days earlier.

Greg Vaughn popped in the videotape and played it for an audience of one, manager Hal McRae. The player hitting home run after home run was the 1998 version of Vaughn.

The positive re-enforcement from his 50-homer season with the Reds was just another method Vaughn has used this season to help escape the stranglehold of the worst slump of his career.

"I've been trying to get myself right since I came to spring training," he said. "Every day I try to do something to improve; every day to help my team, whether it's getting on base, stealing a base. This team counts on me so much, especially in the middle of the lineup, to drive in runs. Before (Saturday), it hasn't been that often."

Lugging the lowest batting average of any regular in the major leagues into Saturday's game against the Orioles, Vaughn burst out of his funk with two home runs as the Rays beat Baltimore 5-4 before 35,093 at Camden Yards.

His two-run shot in the ninth off closer Jorge Julio broke a 3-3 tie. "It's been a long time waiting," said Vaughn, who now is hitting .118. "It's been a long, frustrating period for us to be so close and for me not helping out my team.

"It's been a period where you keep thinking to yourself every day that this is going to be the day. It feels good to get the monkey off my back."

The Rays, who have lost 14 games by one or two runs this season, got 12 hits and solid pitching from starter Paul Wilson and the bullpen.

The right-hander held the Orioles to three runs through seven innings before the Rays dipped into the bullpen.

Doug Creek pitched a scoreless eighth, and closer Esteban Yan pitched the ninth, allowing Gary Matthews' homer before closing out the game.

"Wilson pitched outstanding ball. Creek did a good job. Yan got another save. And Vaughn got hot," McRae said. "That's a pretty good combination."

Vaughn has 346 home runs after his first multihomer game since May20 and 30th of his career.

"He's had a very positive attitude," McRae said. "If he was a flea, he would not have been in (the lineup) every day. But he's not. He has the ability to reach the seats."

Vaughn hit his first homer of the game in his second at-bat.

It was his first since Aug.5, a span of 222 at-bats, and cut the Rays' deficit to 3-1.

"After the inning, I was coming up to the clubhouse for a cup of coffee," catcher John Flaherty said. "He walked by and said, "Now let's play ball.'

"I'm not a home run hitter, but he's hit 50 home runs. When you're that type of guy and you don't have one, I'm sure it's going to weigh on you mentally. He got that first one out of the way, and you saw how quickly the second one came."

Three at-bats later.

Vaughn stroked a 2-and-1 pitch into left-centerfield.

In between, the Rays scored one more run and tied it at 3 in the fifth when Flaherty hit a run-scoring single.

The 34-year-old Flaherty finished 2-for-3 with an RBI and is hitting .700 with 5 runs, 4 doubles and 4 RBIs in his past three starts.

Wilson worked into the sixth for a club-record 14th consecutive time. The Orioles scored in each of the first three innings to take a 3-0 lead, then Wilson settled down.

seeking his third win against Baltimore this season, he allowed two hits combined in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh, and only one runner reached second. Wilson faced three batters in three of those innings.

He was pulled before the start of the eighth, after 110 pitches, and has allowed three runs or fewer in five of his eight starts this season.

"I got a better fastball and started changing speeds a lot better in the latter half of the game," Wilson said. "I finally got into a rhythm."

Vaughn stroked a 2-and-1 pitch from Julio into left-centerfield with one on and two out in the ninth. The Rays are 3-3 since breaking a 15-game losing streak against the Orioles on May11.

"I know it is a relief," McRae said. "It's a relief for everyone that he had finally hit one.

"If he stays hot, offensively we'll play much better because we have veteran leadership by example. Instead of talking about how to do it, he has the ability to go out and show them how to do it. That's all we need."

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