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Johnson grateful to be back

By KRISTEN LEIGH PORTER
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 8, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Russ Johnson was in a Rays uniform Saturday for the first time since July 5.

The third baseman, who had been treated for anxiety and depression, said he was "happy to get to act like a kid for three hours a day." On his first swing in batting practice, Johnson hit the wall 370 feet away.

Manager Hal McRae did not know how he would use Johnson, but he welcomed him after a nearly three-week minor-league rehabilitation.

"I know Russ was concerned about how he was going to be received, but I told him that it wasn't going to be a problem because everybody knew he wasn't in control of his actions," McRae said. "The guy we saw wasn't really him."

Johnson said religion had a lot to with his recovery. An ESPN camera crew has been following him around, but he does not know why, saying he has done nothing to deserve the attention.

"All I want to do is stay humble because it's not about me; I'm just a baseball player that just plays hard and does my little job," Johnson said. "All I know is this happened for a reason."

HUFF A HIT: With his second-inning single, Aubrey Huff extended his hitting streak to 14 games, a Rays season high and the fourth-longest in team history. He is tied for the majors' longest current streak with the Angels' David Eckstein and injured Reds rookie Austin Kearns.

"It's one of those years where I'm getting the good hitter's counts and seeing the ball a lot better," Huff said.

The 25-year-old Huff also hit his 21st home run in the seventh, a high number considering he did not join the Rays until May 28. He has homered in three straight games for the first time.

Huff has driven in or scored six of the Rays' 10 runs during the homestand. The Miami product said the Hurricanes football team's win against Florida was "the only good thing today."

EX-GATOR GAME: Former Florida quarterback Herbert Perry did not get to watch the Gators lose to Miami, but he put on a show of his own by going 3-for-5 with a career-high five RBIs. Perry singled in the second, hit a home run in the third that gave Texas a 5-0 lead and added a seventh-inning homer. It was the fourth multihomer game of his career and first of the season for Perry.

"I usually do it once a year whenever I get a chance to play," said Perry, who has 21 homers this season. "I didn't know if today would be the day. You never think you're going to hit two."

PARK PLUGGED: Several Korean media outlets, including the Korean Broadcasting System, were in St. Petersburg for countryman Chan Ho Park's turn in the Rangers rotation. The crew stays in Dallas and travels to all games Park is expected to start, providing radio to the MLB television feed.

It was the 21st game of the season for the crew. Commentator Kun Young Shon said several million people listen to the broadcasts and would have Saturday even though the 13-hour time difference meant it aired at 7:15 a.m. today.

There were five Korean newspapers and two photographers present. Park pitched 81/3 innings, giving up two runs, and was ejected for talking back to the umpire after being taken out.

SOSA STARTING: Right-hander Jorge Sosa is today's scheduled starter. In his 13 starts this season, Sosa is 1-7 with a 6.10 ERA.

"He's made some progress, but he's going to be up and down," McRae said. "The inconsistency is the normal course. I think he's doing extremely well for a position player that was converted and has only pitched for a year."

MISCELLANY: The Durham Bulls named Andy Sheets team MVP and closer Lee Gardner pitcher of the year. Durham begins the International League championship series Tuesday at Buffalo without both. ... Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez has 83 hits against the Rays, matching Toronto's Shannon Stewart for the most. He is hitting .417 (highest vs. the Rays) with 16 homers and 48 RBIs.


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