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Extra effort needed for win

RAYS 3, PADRES 2 (10): Steve Cox's RBI saves Tampa Bay after blowing a 2-1 lead in 9th.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 9, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- The way Randy Winn told it, there wasn't much he had to do. "Tom (Foley, third-base coach) gave me the 'get-a-jump' sign and I got a jump basically," Winn said. "Nothing too complicated."

The way Alan Embree told it, there wasn't much he could do. "It wasn't fun," the San Diego reliever said. "I thought I gave him a long look. He wasn't that far off, and when I looked away he was gone."

The way it turned out it, it was the key play -- a steal of third ahead of Steve Cox's broken-bat run-scoring single -- in the 10th-inning rally that gave the Rays a 3-2 interleague victory over the Padres on Saturday.

'It doesn't matter how you do it or what happens," Cox said, "it's nice to win a ballgame."

Just a few minutes earlier, it looked like everything was about to go wrong again for the Rays, whose 20-40 record is the worst in the majors.

Tanyon Sturtze was two outs from his first victory of what has become a nightmare season when he gave up a towering tying home run to Ron Gant. "It was a fastball and as soon as I saw it tail back over the middle I knew it wasn't going to be a pretty sight," Sturtze said. "I was just hoping it didn't go into the Beach."

But Sturtze got out of the ninth with the score tied, Victor Zambrano got through the 10th thanks to a nifty double play by Chris Gomez, and then things quickly started to go right before 14,039 at Tropicana Field.

Winn, in his new role as leadoff man, opened the 10th with a single to left. Jason Conti bunted the ball too hard at the mound, but the Rays got a huge break when Embree's throw to second pulled shortstop Deivi Cruz off the base.

"We got a bad bunt and we didn't make a good throw and that's what got us," San Diego manager Bruce Bochy said. "Unbelievable."

With men on first and second, no outs and the middle of the lineup due up, the situation looked promising.

But McRae wanted more.

Ninety feet more.

"With Winn on third, it changes their defense, completely changes their defense," McRae said. "Now we can score a run without getting a base hit. I've got three lefties coming up and they've got a left-hander on the mound and I want the 90 feet. I'll take the 90 feet any time I can get it, but I wanted the 90 feet because of the matchup."

Winn picked the perfect pitch, 0-and-1, and got such a huge jump that catcher Tom Lampkin didn't make a throw.

"It was a play that you don't have to do but I prefer to be aggressive," McRae said. "I was trying to get an advantage. I had no fear if Cox didn't swing."

Instead, Cox took one for the team.

"He threw me a pretty good pitch to hit," Cox said. "I saw that he had such a good jump and I took it, but I'm thinking, 'Geez, that might be the best pitch I get to hit."'

The Padres moved the infield and outfield in, and Cox looped the next pitch behind second base and in front of charging centerfielder Mark Kotsay.

"It wasn't like it was a great piece of hitting or anything, it just happened to work at the time," Cox said. "It was all set up by Randy stealing that base. That was the key."

For Cox, who'd had 10 hits in his past 69 at-bats, and one RBI in his past 12 games, it was a welcomed contribution, giving the Rays their fifth walk-off win of the season.

"I hit a couple balls tonight, one really well and just missed another. It's not that I was going up there having no chance tonight," Cox said. "That at-bat was probably the worst one of the day, it just happened to be the gamewinner. I swung at a bad pitch and it ended up working out."

The same couldn't be said for Sturtze, who went a career-high nine innings and 131 pitches and had nothing to show for it but an interesting notation. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first opening day starter to go 13 starts into the season without a win since Tom Underwood of the Blue Jays in 1979.

"After Tanyon pitched so well and they came back and tied it, it would have been easy for us to get down," Winn said. "So this is a real good trait for this team. Hopefully we can build on it."

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