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Offense sputters for Rays

MARLINS 3, RAYS 0: Florida starter A.J. Burnett strikes out 11 in a complete-game 3-hitter.

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 16, 2002


MIAMI -- Somebody asked Jackie Brown a few days ago which opposing pitcher had impressed him the most this season.

The Rays pitching coach was without an answer until Saturday.

"He was on the mound," Brown said.

With a 98 mph fastball and a devastating breaking ball that he didn't fully reveal until the later innings, Marlins starter A.J. Burnett deflated the Rays offense before 10,904 at Pro Player Stadium.

The right-hander allowed three hits and struck out a career-high 11 in a complete-game 3-0 victory against the perpetually light-hitting Rays, who were shut out for the eighth time this season.

"He wasn't a very fair guy to go up there for my first at-bats in a long time," said Tampa Bay starter Paul Wilson, who struck out three times. "He was lights out. He's got an electric fastball with a good (curveball). He challenges you."

The Rays know all about challenges.

They entered with a .241 batting average with runners in scoring position, having left 88 men at either second or third base, in their previous 21 games. Against Burnett, Tampa Bay was 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranded five.

"There's certain situations when there's a runner on base and you try real hard to drive them in instead of relaxing, doing what you normally do," centerfielder Randy Winn said. "You put too much pressure on yourself to get the job done.

"It's hard to play the game that way."

Wilson did his job by keeping his club close and continuing an impressive trend for the pitching staff.

Though the past four starters have a combined 1-2 record, they have compiled a 2.94 ERA in 332/3 innings. They have allowed 24 hits, walked two and struck out 26.

Wilson's 62/3-inning outing, in which he allowed three runs on eight hits and struck out seven, broke a streak in which three Rays starters had gone nine innings.

"It's a shame we haven't been able to score more runs for them," Winn said. "But that's kind of been the story of our season. We haven't put it all together."

The Marlins didn't get a runner past second until the sixth. Florida second baseman Luis Castillo led off the inning with an infield single that extended his hitting streak to 30 games. He beat a one-hop throw by shortstop Chris Gomez and is one game from the longest hitting streak in the majors since Montreal's Vladimir Guerrero in 1999.

"I read something about it in the newspaper," Wilson said.

Shortstop Andy Fox followed with a double. Mike Lowell, the Marlins third baseman and a probable All-Star, singled home Castillo and Fox to give the Marlins a 2-0 lead.

"I made a decent pitch, it was off the plate but it was down," Wilson said. "He's a good hitter."

And so is Winn, lately.

His hot streak and push for a reserve spot on the All-Star team continued with another two-hit performance.

With a double in the third and triple in the fifth inning, the Rays centerfielder has 11 extra-base hits in his past six games. Winn is batting .468 with 9 doubles, 3 homers, 8 RBIs and 11 runs scored since moving to the leadoff spot June 5.

"He's been red hot," Rays manager Hal McRae said. "The biggest improvement, other than the base hits, he's shown a lot of patience at the plate. He looks like a leadoff guy. He's taking pitches, working the count, putting good swings on mistake pitches. He's not doing a lot of chasing. He chased a lot before."

The only other player to contribute offensively was rightfielder Ben Grieve, who led off the sixth with a ground-rule double. Grieve was hitting .071 in 28 at-bats entering this series, but has three doubles in the first two games.

Burnett retired the next 12, striking out second baseman Brent Abernathy to end the game.

The Rays are 6-16 since their season-high four-game winning streak in May and 8-16 all-time against the Marlins.

"We were kept in check by good pitching," McRae said. "Tonight we were outpitched. Paul pitched well, but (Burnett) pitched better. We were beaten."


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