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Rays tales

By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 18, 2002

HIGHER POWER: Desperate times can make for strange couplings -- such as an angel and a Devil (Ray). During a recent autograph session, a fan gave Andy Sheets a baseball angel pin, which he decided to stick on his batting practice cap.

"It can't hurt," Sheets said. "I was signing autographs, and some lady gave it to me. ... Maybe it will watch over us."

GOING DEEP: The Rays aren't much for power trips, ranking at or near the bottom of the league in homers every season. But they are closing in on an impressive minor-league home run feat.

Three of their minor-leaguers entered Saturday leading their leagues in home runs. Bakersfield's Jonny Gomes had 27 in the Class A California League. Hudson Valley's Joey Gomes (Jonny's older brother) had 13 in the short-season A New York-Penn League, and Princeton's Wes Bankston had 16 in the rookie-level Appalachian League. A fourth, Orlando's Pete LaForest, was second in the Double-A Southern League with 17.

The last time an organization had four minor-league home run champions was 1965, when the Pirates and Astros did it.

Even more rare, research by the Rays and Bob McConnell of the Society for American Baseball Research shows there has been only one set of brothers who were minor-league home run champions in the same season. Ike Boone led the Pacific Coast League with 55 in 1929, and older brother, Danny, led the Piedmont League with 46. Both, by the way, played in the majors, though Danny as a pitcher.

HISTORY LESSON: There are only four current Rays who were active during the last strike in 1994-95: Wilson Alvarez, John Flaherty, Chris Gomez and Greg Vaughn (on the disabled list). If that's not enough of a reminder how young they are, consider this: Of the other 22 Rays on the active roster, two were playing college ball and 12 were in high school.

DOUBLE PLAY: The Rays entered Saturday tied for the major-league lead with 10 complete games but 29th with a 5.21 ERA, just ahead of Texas' major-league worst 5.23. Since 1900, only two teams have led the majors in complete games while finishing last in ERA. The 1903 Phillies had a 3.96 ERA and 126 -- yes, 126 -- complete games. The 1986 Twins had a 4.77 ERA and 39 complete games.

CENTURY CITY

Barring a remarkable finish (or a lengthy strike) the Rays are destined to lose 100 games for the second straight season. That puts them in rare company. In the past 50 years, only six other teams have had back-to-back 100-loss seasons (for a total of 12 times).

EXCERPTED

From a Rocky Mountain News article on the sad state of the Marlins and Rays: "It has been suggested the Devil Rays would do better in a ballpark located in Tampa, somewhere near Interstates 4 and 75. John McHale Jr., who was the Devil Rays chief operating officer for 10 months until March, when he left to become MLB's executive vice president of administration, said of Tropicana Field, "Maybe it isn't ideal. Maybe in a laboratory setting there would be different things you would do with the facility and its location. But I just think that's far from the first problem."'

ONLINE ITEM OF THE WEEK

A signed photo of the Rays' top four picks in their first draft -- Paul Wilder, Doug Johnson (now an NFL quarterback), Ed Kofler and Cedrick Bowers -- is listed on eBay with an opening bid of $4.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"I could, but I won't. I'm not going to play that game."

-- HAL McRAE, Rays manager on projecting how good Carl Crawford can be

-- Compiled by Marc Topkin.


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