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Pitchers to face Coors fear factor

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 21, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO -- As if their pitchers aren't having enough problems, the Rays next go to Coors Field, where fly balls turn into home runs and base hits seem to drop from the sky.

"One thing you really have to drill into the starting pitchers is that you can go out there and give up six or seven runs and really have a good game," Rays catcher John Flaherty said.

"Obviously that's tough to swallow. But it's really one of those places where you give up two or three runs in the first inning and you had better keep battling because there's a very good chance those three runs aren't going to beat you."

If the Rays pitchers don't want to believe Flaherty, they can look at the three games the Yankees just played there: The teams combined for 70 runs and 95 hits.

"It's never over there," leftfielder Greg Vaughn said.

The challenge at Coors Field is twofold. Because of the altitude in Denver, the ball carries extremely well, leading to more home runs. And because the dimensions were increased as compensation (424 feet in right-center, 420 in left, 350 down the rightfield line), there is a larger outfield for balls to land in.

"You're going to give up cheap hits and you're going to give up cheap home runs," Flaherty said. "From a pitching standpoint, mentally it's a challenge to really keep your focus."

Conversely, even the Rays' anemic offense should be able to take advantage of the hitter-friendly environment.

"It's a joke to hit in," said rightfielder Ben Grieve, who has a .476 average there.

Either way, both teams usually end up scoring a lot. And there is the additional challenge of having to defend so much turf.

"It's a six-run ballpark," manager Hal McRae said. "You need six runs to be in the ballgame. And no lead is safe."

NO-WINN SITUATION: Randy Winn's 13-game hitting streak ended with an 0-for-4 Thursday, but he wasn't particularly upset about it.

"I'm glad it's over," Winn said. "I don't like them, and I don't like talking about them. It's not a big deal until you've done what Luis Castillo (who has a 34-game streak) has done.

"If I'm 0-for-4 today and 2-for-4 tomorrow, what's the difference between being 1-for-4 and 1-for-4."

Winn had a hit in each game since being moved to the leadoff spot June5. Even after Thursday's 0-fer, he has a .421 average over that stretch.

RUPE HURTING: There may be a reason Ryan Rupe pitched as poorly as he did in Wednesday's 8-0 loss: soreness in his right knee caused by patella tendinitis.

"I've been fighting that pretty good," Rupe said.

Rupe is scheduled to see knee specialist Dr. J. Richard Steadman today in Colorado, but the Rays don't expect any serious problems.

Rupe's has struggled on the mound lately, losing four straight and giving up 20 runs in 25 innings.

Rupe was in trouble from the start Wednesday, hitting leadoff man Reggie Sanders and giving up four runs in the first inning. The Giants stretched the lead to 7-0 in the fourth, and there wasn't much the Rays could do about it as Jason Schmidt pitched a five-hitter.

SETTLE ON IN: Catcher Toby Hall apparently won't be coming back from Triple-A Durham soon, despite a .338 average in 18 games. "The time down there will do him good. It won't hurt for him to reestablish himself," McRae said. "There's no rush. (Flaherty) has been doing a good job."

MISCELLANY: Barry Bonds didn't play Thursday, so the Rays held him to one single for the series. ... The Giants stole three bases against rookie catcher Paul Hoover. ... After giving Doug Creek a one-inning tuneup, McRae used Jason Jimenez to finish the game so he could save Travis Harper and Victor Zambrano for the Colorado series.

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