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Rays done in by basics

Ryan Rupe can't find plate in second to set up a grand slam by homerless Ramon Vazquez as Padres win 8-4.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 8, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- No matter what league -- American, National or Little -- your opponent is from, they are the kind of mistakes you can't make and expect to win a game.

Walk the bases loaded, then give up a grand slam to the No. 9 hitter.

The final score in Friday's interleague opener was 8-4 for the Padres, but the game basically was decided in the second inning when Ryan Rupe couldn't throw the ball over the plate, then grooved one down the middle that Ramon Vazquez, a .217 hitter at the bottom of one of the weakest lineups in either league, knocked over the rightfield fence.

Usually, the Rays lose because they can't score enough runs. Now they're losing because their pitchers are walking too many batters, 28 in the past six games.

"It seems like we spring a leak," manager Hal McRae said. "When one thing picks up, another thing goes bad. It's really the inconsistency of play team-wise that's been our demise."

Friday, there wasn't much to stir the interest of 10,578 at Tropicana Field.

Ex-Ray Bubba Trammell hit a booming remember-me home run in the sixth. Surging Jared Sandberg had a homer and a double. Randy Winn, the latest new leadoff hitter, was on base four times.

And new Bucs coach Jon Gruden, in what fans hope wasn't a precursor to the performance of his offense, came up a little short on his ceremonial first pitch.

After putting three men on with two outs in the second, Rupe didn't have much room for error. And when he fell behind Vazquez 3-and-0, with the more dangerous Mark Kotsay next, he said he felt he had no choice but to throw the ball over the plate.

When Vazquez, a 25-year-old rookie, took the first pitch, Rupe decided to try again.

"In that situation, I wasn't going to take a chance," Rupe said. "I really didn't want to walk in that run. And with Kotsay on deck he was going to get one right down the middle, and he did what he needed to do with it."

'The bases were loaded, he got behind in the count and we don't know much about that kid except that he's hitting .220, so you've got to come in with a fastball to hit," catcher John Flaherty said. "Give him credit, he was on it."

It was the first home run in 147 major-league at-bats for Vazquez, who hit 34 in 2,582 minor-league at-bats.

Said Vazquez: "It was the best swing I had all year."

The Rays led 1-0 and twice closed the gap to two, 4-2 in the third and 5-3 in the fifth, but couldn't sustain a rally. They went 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position, dropping their average in those situations to .241.

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