RAYS 6, RANGERS 3: Manager says serious changes are needed to boost morale as five-game skid ends.
By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 9, 2002
ST. PETERSBURG -- His intent remains getting his Rays players to finish another disappointing season on a positive.
A 6-3 win against Texas on Sunday at Tropicana Field might be a start.
But Rays manager Hal McRae has allowed himself to look at next season and how an organization nearing its second straight 100-loss season can begin righting itself.
"I'm curious to know what the plan is," McRae said. "When you lose as many games as we've lost (94 this season), changes need to be made.
"If we're going to keep hope alive, changes have got to be made. I don't think you can seriously consider bringing the same group back. The story line has to change."
Sunday's win before 11,779 at Tropicana Field ended a five-game losing streak during which the Rays had been outscored 44-10, batted .229 and pitched to an 8.40 ERA.
"It's a good feeling," first baseman Steve Cox said. "It's been a long five days. It's nice to finally play decently."
A solid outing from rookie pitcher Jorge Sosa, who allowed one run over five innings for his first career win at home, was helped by a productive day from the offense against Rangers starter Joaquin Benoit.
The Rays took a 3-0 lead by the third inning and added three in the fifth and sixth.
Third baseman Aubrey Huff extended his career-high hitting streak to 15 games with a single in the first. He added a double and single despite facing a shift by the Rangers defense.
Cox and rightfielder Ben Grieve, who put the Rays ahead 5-1 with a homer in the fifth, contributed two RBIs each.
"We had some life today," McRae said. "We looked like a ballclub. It's nice to see and we need to continue to play that way. You always look better when you pitch and hit."
Winning has been an all too infrequent occurrence this season for the youngest team in the majors. Tampa Bay's longest winning streak is four games, its longest losing streak 15.
The organization will confront a number of personnel decisions this offseason that could alter the team's makeup in 2003 and possibly its general direction the next couple years.
Pitchers Paul Wilson, Tanyon Sturtze and Ryan Rupe are arbitration eligible and could be too expensive to retain. All-Star centerfielder Randy Winn and closer Esteban Yan, who allowed a run in two innings Sunday, could receive raises in the neighborhood of $3-million.
And McRae wouldn't mind adding a few affordable veterans to add perspective in a relatively green clubhouse, a serviceable middle infielder and another late-inning reliever.
"I'm a big morale person and morale is important," McRae said. "Without change, where's hope? I hope that significant changes are made because morale is so key to what we're trying to accomplish."
McRae understands any change could include him. The 57-year-old is under contract through next season. General manager Chuck LaMar said there would be no talks about an extension during this season.
"If I am (replaced) then that's change," said McRae, who has a 106-184 record since taking over as manager in April 2001. "And change has to be made."
The need for improvement isn't lost on the players, some of whom believe the addition of a few veterans and the resulting competition would not hurt.
"Things are going to have to change," designated hitter Greg Vaughn said. "We've got to work and perform to be here. You've still got to try and get better and get rid of this losing attitude.
"If you bring in some winners gradually over time I think you change the morale."
A strong finish would prove beneficial, but it won't be easy.
Fourteen of the Rays' remaining 20 games are against playoff contenders New York and Boston. They are a combined 4-20 against the Yankees and Red Sox this season.
"You hope for the best each day," McRae said. "You know what they're capable of doing. How inconsistently we do good things as a team is tough to figure out.
"But we know what we have. We can play good baseball and we can win baseball games."