Bats, pen give hope for tough stretch
RAYS 7, RANGERS 5: Tired relief staff pitches five shutout innings in first series win since June.
By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 1, 2002
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Major-league rosters can expand to 40 players for the remainder of the season.
In Tampa Bay's case, however, the players who beat the Rangers 7-5 Saturday night before 30,757 at the Ballpark in Arlington to avoid their 90th loss of the season likely will be around at the end of a potentially trying final month.
Seventeen of the Rays' remaining 27 games are against the Angels, who lead the wild-card standings; the Yankees, who are on their way to winning the American League East; and the Red Sox, who are trying to keep pace in the wild-card race.
The Rays are a combined 5-25 against those clubs this season.
"But I think we're young enough to keep things going," manager Hal McRae said. "We've still got guys trying to establish themselves. Everybody is still kind of trying to make their mark."
Things might not be that bad this month if Tampa Bay's bullpen and offense can continue to perform as they have the past two nights against an underachieving Rangers team.
Rays relievers have allowed one run in their past 10 2/3 innings and are 2-0 with two saves against Texas this series. The offense has produced 16 runs on 29 hits.
"It's encouraging. It's nice to see," McRae said. "The guys are still giving a good effort to try and finish strong."
Reliever Lee Gardner got his first major-league win after centerfielder Randy Winn scored the winning run on a wild pitch in the eighth, giving the Rays a 6-5 lead, and catcher Toby Hall followed with a run-scoring single.
"Right now I don't think it's hit home," said Gardner, who pitched a scoreless seventh and eighth. "You always think growing up that you're going to get one and you're going to be there in a situation to get one.
"Tonight I snuck in and it could've easily gone the other way. The guys did a great job at the plate tonight. My job isn't to go out and get wins, it's to get them back in the dugout and give them a chance to win it."
The Rays' first series win since June 28-30 gave them 11 victories in August, more than any month this season.
"We haven't won that many, but the guys play hard each night," McRae said. "They give us a chance to win, but they just haven't been consistent enough to win games."
McRae appeared limited with what he could do with his relievers after Brandon Backe was optioned to Triple-A Durham earlier in the day.
Lance Carter, called up to replace Backe, was unavailable because he pitched for Durham on Wednesday.
So with a bullpen that logged 5 2/3 innings the night before, McRae had to leave starter Travis Harper out longer than he probably wanted to.
The Rangers took a 5-2 lead and had two on and nobody out in the fifth before Harper was relieved in favor of Travis Phelps, who pitched 1 2/3 innings Friday.
Harper is 2-2 with a 5.68 ERA in 25 1/3 innings as a starter this season.
Phelps and Gardner each pitched two scoreless innings. Esteban Yan, who appears to have won back his job as closer, got his second save in as many nights.
The Rays improved to 7-17 against left-handed starters this season.
Texas left=hander Kenny Rogers held Tampa Bay to two hits through a breezy four innings before allowing two runs in the fifth.
Rookie leftfielder Carl Crawford led off the inning with a walk, his fourth since being called up from Triple A on July 20, and scored on a single by Winn. Second baseman Andy Sheets made it 3-2 when he scored on a double play.
The Rays scored one in the sixth to make it 5-3 and tied it with a run-scoring double by Jared Sandberg and run-scoring single by rightfielder Ben Grieve.
The eighth-inning rally began with two outs when Winn and Aubrey Huff, who broke the club record for hits in a month, singled off Rangers reliever Danny Kolb.
Huff finished with 44 hits in August, topping Winn's 42 in June.
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