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Rangers shift can't stop streaking Huff

By Times staff writers
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 9, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Aubrey Huff beat a Texas shift Sunday and extended his career-high hitting streak to 15 games, longest of the season for the Rays.

In four of the left-handed hitter's five at-bats, second baseman Michael Young backed up into shallow rightfield, shortstop Alex Rodriguez shifted behind second and third baseman Herbert Perry covered the hole at short.

No problem for Huff, who went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a run. Huff had run-scoring singles in the first and sixth, doubled in the third and walked in the fourth.

"I was happy to see it," Rays manager Hal McRae said. "The more they try to walk him, the more they try to adjust to his hitting style, it's going to build his confidence."

The Rangers took off the shift in the sixth when Huff batted with Randy Winn at second. That move failed as Huff singled up the middle to score Winn.

"(The shift is) the first time it's happened to me," said Huff, whose average has risen from .306 to a season-best .328 during his hitting streak.

"I had a thought in the back of my mind, "Should I lay one down and shoot it down the line for a bunt?' But you kind of want to beat it."

Huff has scored or driven in nine of the Rays' 16 runs on the current homestand.

Huff has the Rays' fourth-longest streak, behind Quinton McCracken (18, 1998), Aaron Ledesma (16, '99) and Fred McGriff (16, 2000).

* * *

FOR DAD: Converted outfielder Jorge Sosa of the Dominican Republic dedicated his second win and first at home to his 56-year-old father, Faautos. Sosa, who halted a personal five-game skid, makes daily phone calls to his father.

POWER RANGERS: Homers by Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez gave Texas the major-league record for consecutive games with a home run. The Rangers, who have homered in 26 straight games, broke a tie with the 1998 Braves, '94 Tigers and '41 Yankees.

Texas' 52 homers in that stretch surpassed Oakland's 50 in 23 games in 1996 to establish another major-league mark.

"I guess it's nice to have a record, but our team record is 16-10 in that time so I guess we'll take that," Texas manager Jerry Narron said.

READY TO GO: Pitcher Paul Wilson threw in the bullpen before the game and reported no problems. The Rays held the right-hander out of his last start because manager Hal McRae thought he looked tired in a 31/3-inning outing against the Rangers on Aug. 30.

Wilson is scheduled to start Wednesday against Boston.

"I want to be aggressive and stay down in the (strike) zone," he said. "That strategy has gotten me this far so I'll stick with it."

HIT RECORD: Winn broke a single-season team record with his 97th hit at home, a bunt single leading off the third. The dribbler to second broke the mark of 96 set by McCracken in 1999.

PROSPECT SIGNS: Infielder Shane Shelley, the Rays' 37th-round draft pick from Belle Chasse High (La.), signed. Shelley, who reports to the team's instructional league camp Sept. 15, is the 23rd 2002 pick to sign with the Rays.

BOBBLEHEAD: Steve Cox, whose two-run single in the third gave Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead, became the third Ray to have a bobblehead doll, after McGriff and mascot Raymond.

STARTERS: Second baseman Brent Abernathy and shortstop Felix Escalona will start again today in place of Andy Sheets and Chris Gomez, respectively.

CAN'T LOSE: Tanyon Sturtze (3-15, 5.01 ERA) tries to avoid becoming the first Rays pitcher to lose 16 in a season when he starts tonight. The right-hander shares the record with Tony Saunders (1998) and Bobby Witt (1999).

-- STEVE LEE, KEVIN KELLY


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