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Rays Tales: At the All-Star Break

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published July 7, 2002


The Rays had no reason to know what, um, horror was ahead when noted novelist Stephen King was spotted in the Tropicana Field stands during an April 25 game. They were two outs from a fifth straight win that would have evened their record at 10-10.

And then (cue scary music)

It was bad. It was horrible! IT WAS AWFUL!!!

The Rays went on to lose 15 in a row, the longest streak in the majors since the 1988 Orioles dropped 21 straight.

What made it even stranger was the way it happened. They lost one game (vs. Boston's Derek Lowe on April 27) when they got no hits; another (vs. Minnesota on May 1) when they got no assists (an accomplishment more rare, by the way, than a perfect game, four homers by the same batter or even an unassisted triple play); four in which they led in the ninth, including an amazing three straight when they were one out from victory; and 10 by one or two runs.

"You're just on the bench shaking your head like, "What's going on here? Something's not right. Something's weird,' " Steve Cox said.

The best thing about the streak, of course, was the way it ended: Randy Winn's three-run home run with two strikes and two outs in the ninth inning, giving them a 6-4 win over the Orioles.

We're sorry, Tanyon, really

It is meant as an honor to recognize the player whose performance was deemed most valuable to the Rays. But just as soon as Tanyon Sturtze received the 2001 MVP trophy from the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, he was doomed. That 1-9 record? Blame it on the jinx. And be ready to say goodbye.

Quinton McCracken, the 1998 MVP, suffered a career-threatening knee injury the next season and by mid 2000 was sent to the minors and released. (The rightfielder is playing well for Arizona). Roberto Hernandez, the 1999 MVP, dropped off to 32 saves in 2000 and was traded after the season to, of all places, Kansas City. Outfielder Gerald Williams, the 2000 MVP, struggled so badly the next season (.207, 4 homers, 17 RBI) he was benched and released before the end of June.

Get me rewrite

Think it's been tough watching the Rays as they continue to lose close games? Imagine what it's like to actually live through it. (Or to try to write stories on deadline about them). Consider how they've done (through Friday) in crunch time:

Maybe he should buy a lottery ticket

In January, Winn was randomly selected from the crowd at a Los Angeles Clippers game, converted a halfcourt shot and won a new car, which he gave to his mother. In February, he told manager Hal McRae he was ready to be an everyday player and won a starting job. In April, he hit a pinch-hit grand slam to help beat Detroit. In May, he ended the Rays' 15-game losing streak with a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. In June, he tied an American League record with eight extra-base hits over three games and set team marks with 42 hits and 19 extra-base hits. This week, he'll be an All-Star for the first time, representing the Rays in Milwaukee. And in November, he'll marry fiancee Blessings Robertson. "It's shaping up," Winn said, "to be quite an eventful year."

Not the river in Egypt

As if the major-league worst performance on the field wasn't bad enough, managing general partner Vince Naimoli has spent much of the first half in denial. He denied that chief operating officer John McHale Jr. resigned because of problems with the franchise. He denied several published reports that the Rays face severe financial trouble. He vehemently denied the Rays had become a candidate for contraction. He denied rumors that general manager Chuck LaMar was in danger of being fired. As far as we know, he has not yet been forced to deny today is Sunday.

Youth movement

On the Rays calendar, this was supposed to be the Year of the Kid, the season when young players showed their stuff. Except for Joe Kennedy and Brent Abernathy, it hasn't exactly worked out. Several other top prospects opened the season in the minors or were sent down at some point. Plus there was Nick Bierbrodt, who was unable to pitch after a severe loss of control in spring training, and then was shot while in Charleston, S.C. Here's a look (through Friday):

Fun with numbers

The Rays had an inning when they gave up 12 runs, one when they scored eight after two were out and two six-run first innings.

The player with the most RBIs in the entire organization is infielder Andy Sheets -- 66 in 87 games.

When the Rays started 3-0, it was the latest into a season they've ever been in first place.

The only Rays starter with a .500 or better record is Wilson Alvarez (2-2).


Back to the Rays
Today's lineup

Rays
  • Rays waste spectacular pitching by rookie
  • Another tantalizing loss
  • Johnson leaves as the team cites personal reasons
  • Expensive decision: whether to keep Winn
  • Rays Tales: At the All-Star Break

  • Bucs
  • Bucs talk with CB Buckley
  • Southern Fryed

  • Other sports

    Motorsports
  • Waltrip repeats his feat
  • Gordon has the car, but not the luck
  • Unhappy fans trash the track
  • Sound bites

  • Wimbledon
  • A power play

  • Baseball
  • No funeral for Ted Williams
  • The First Half in Review
  • A time to soothe the game's rifts
  • Sobieraj settles into life as pro

  • Storm
  • Fortunes change, but rivalry doesn't

  • NFL
  • Ravens fans greet Redman skeptically

  • Colleges
  • USF runners win Citrus Showdown

  • Preps
  • Keystone finally gets game with Palma Ceia
  • Team's new coach to maintain tradition

  • Outdoors
  • Williams was a fish slugger, too

  • Letters
  • If the Lightning won't pay, then neither will fan

  • Outdoors
  • Daily fishing report
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