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Split personality

Rays bounce back from Boston massacre with a five-run ninth in nightcap to stun Sox.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published July 24, 2002

BOSTON -- Okay, so what was the story of the day?

The first game of the day-night doubleheader when the Rays suffered the worst loss in franchise history, a 22-4 defeat that some players called embarrassing and had Greg Vaughn ripping his teammates for their lack of character and concern?

Or the Rays' stunning 5-4 win in the nightcap, which nearly eight hours later featured a five-run ninth-inning comeback that was their biggest, and perhaps most important, of the season?

"It's been a long day," said Jared Sandberg, whose three-run homer off Boston closer Ugueth Urbina provided the winning margin. "We've been here for 15 hours, and to cap it off like that, it's definitely been a rollercoaster day. I don't know how to explain it."

The Rays had every reason to consider the day a lost cause. They had blown a 4-0 lead in the opener, allowing the Red Sox to score 22 consecutive runs, including seven home runs, in a game played in oppressive heat and humidity. They had about three hours between games, but then had to sit through a rain delay that lasted more than two hours. The game didn't start until 9:18 p.m., and when it did it didn't go well.

Paul Wilson kept the ball in the park, but the Sox took a 4-0 lead, extending their run to 26 runs. The Rays, no-hit by Derek Lowe here April 27, were blanked Tuesday until the fourth and managed just five singles through seven innings.

But three outs from a team record-tying 11th straight loss to the Red Sox, they staged their biggest rally of the season.

The Rays loaded the bases against Chris Haney when Aubrey Huff doubled, John Flaherty singled and Ben Grieve was hit by a pitch. Andy Sheets, who had a career-high 69 RBIs at Triple-A Durham, greeted Urbina with a two-run double off the Green Monster. Then Sandberg, who had snapped an 0-for-19 streak with a fifth-inning single, hit the three-run homer.

"There's no quit in this team, and they've showed it over and over," manager Hal McRae said.

Victor Zambrano got the win for getting the final out of the eighth, but Wilson deserves some credit for keeping the score close through his 72/3 innings.

"It was a good win for us tonight, emotionally a good win," Wilson said. "It was a tough day early on."

How tough?

Despite the 22 runs, the home runs they gave up (three to Nomar Garciaparra), the 10-run third and the team-record margin of defeat, it was how some of players reacted to the first-game debacle that was deemed most offensive by the senior Ray.

Twenty minutes after the final out, a half-dozen players lounged on couches watching a DVD on the big-screen television with others circled behind them talking.

From a corner of the clubhouse, Vaughn, the team's most established player, was incensed to see teammates treating the humiliating defeat as any other.

"I'm not used to this," Vaughn said, his head shaking and voice rising. "You get beat 22-4 and guys are sitting in here watching a movie. If I was playing today, we just might be sitting in the dark. ...

"Please, fake it that it bothers you. If you don't care, if you're just happy to be here, at least give me a half hour and fake it. Let me know that it bothers you a little bit."

Vaughn at first was reluctant to talk, concerned his onfield struggles and long stay on the disabled list would prompt some to criticize him for speaking out.

But his pride and respect for the game won out as he implored his teammates to take the opportunity to play in the major leagues more seriously and have higher expectations for themselves and the team. He then questioned the "character" of those who simply shrugged off the defeat as "just another bad day."

"I think they handed that saying out when this team came into existence. (Forget) that. That's an excuse," Vaughn said. "We've got guys that think they're big-leaguers who don't even know what it's like to be half a big-leaguer. ... Just because you're in the big leagues this year doesn't mean you're going to stay in the big leagues.

"We're the center of every joke from late-night to daytime and pretty soon we'll be on the (blank)ing soap operas. At some point it gets old, I would think. At some point it should bother some people."

The first game offered plenty to be aggravated about.

The Rays actually led 4-0 and McRae, factoring in the heat and the wind, figured the game would be high-scoring.

"I wrote it on the back of my lineup card and I showed it to (pitching coach) Jackie (Brown): 'This is going to be a 10-run game,' " McRae said. "One team was going to score 10 runs, I didn't know which one."

Turns out, it was the Red Sox.

And that was just in the third inning.

Tanyon Sturtze gave up a leadoff homer to Johnny Damon, a single to Lou Merloni, a towering home run to Garciaparra on a 3-and-0 pitch and another home run to Manny Ramirez.

Sturtze faced 10 batters and got one out, a fielder's choice grounder, and rookie Brandon Backe gave up another homer to Garciaparra. It was the second time this season the Rays allowed 10 or more runs in an inning.

McRae said he felt the Rays still were in the game at 10-4. He changed his mind after the Sox scored six in the fourth, capped by Garciaparra's grand slam off Backe.

The Boston shortstop ended up celebrating his 29th birthday with three homers, the first major-leaguer to hit three in back-to-back innings, and eight RBIs.

By the time the Sox were done for the day, after Trot Nixon and Ramirez also homered, they were the first team to score 22 unanswered since the 1977 Cubs. "It was a blur," Rays catcher Toby Hall. "It was like I had a concussion back there."

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