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Directive unites foes in anger

RED SOX 12, RAYS 1: History of plunkings prompts an MLB warning, which both teams say is unwarranted.

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 11, 2002

RED SOX 12, RAYS 1: History of plunkings prompts an MLB warning, which both teams say is unwarranted.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Though far from being the most competitive series in the majors, the Rays and Red Sox have such an intriguing history that Major League Baseball is watching.

That has personnel from both teams fuming over the consequences of playing under an MLB-mandated blanket warning for the remaining five games of their season series.

"There's no common sense involved. There's no judgment involved. There's no instinct involved," Rays manager Hal McRae said after Tuesday's 12-1 loss before 10,891 at Tropicana Field. "It's just follow the letter of the law. That's not the way it should be."

McRae and rookie reliever Lee Gardner were ejected in the eighth after Gardner hit Red Sox pinch-hitter Lou Merloni in the back. Monday, Boston manager Grady Little and pitcher Derek Lowe were ejected after Lowe twice hit Rays No. 9 hitter Felix Escalona.

"Those umpires are doing the jobs they're directed to do and this is probably something that we need to talk to someone higher up (about)," Little said. "It doesn't make good sense to me."

But it apparently makes perfect sense to MLB officials in New York, who are concerned the escalation of incidents between the teams has gone too far.

"I do believe this is probably one of the more serious situations," crew chief Jerry Crawford said before Tuesday's game. "At least Major League Baseball feels it is one of the more serious situations going on in the game today."

In the 2000 series, there was the Pedro Martinez-Gerald Williams confrontation that led to a skirmish and a slew of ejections. In May, after an exchange of hit batters, Trot Nixon's bat somehow ended up flying toward Rays pitcher Ryan Rupe, leading to a series of accusations and two Boston suspensions. And in July, Rays closer Esteban Yan was ejected but not suspended for hitting Red Sox designated hitter Manny Ramirez.

There have been five batters hit in the first two games of this series and 20 hit in the 14 games between the teams this season.

"They can say there's not a problem and I understand that," Crawford said after the game. "But it's cumulative. It started last year and it's continued. ... And they're questioning whether our judgment is right? Well, they're not convincing us that it shouldn't be."

The threat of immediate ejections, some say, is taking away from the spirit of the game and taking away the inside half of the plate for the pitchers.

"You take away that inside pitch and you've got a slugfest out there," Gardner said. "It definitely makes you think twice about going in. The next thing you know, you're going in too far."

Kennedy, who hit Doug Mirabelli in the second and Nomar Garciaparra in the sixth, said the mandate will not change his approach.

"If I go in and hit a guy and if he thinks I was throwing at a guy, then that's the umpire's problem. Not mine," he said.

Judging from the stats, there really seems to be no reason for a rivalry.

Boston has won 12 of 14 against the Rays this season, out-scoring Tampa Bay 96-38 and outhomering the Rays 26-11. The Red Sox also are 26-7 against the Rays the past two seasons.

Boston scored seven off Kennedy in the first six innings to take a 7-1 lead and added five off Rays relievers.

The Rays offense, meanwhile, looked completely baffled by Boston starter John Burkett's arsenal of pitches that ranged from 61-85 mph.

The right-hander, whom the Rays released in spring training in 2000 and has pitched one complete game this season, had a perfect game through three and wound up allowing one run over seven.

The Rays' Aubrey Huff extended his major league-best hitting streak to 17 games with a homer off Burkett in the fifth.

At 48-96 this season, the Rays have the fewest wins by an American League team after 144 games since the 1979 Blue Jays and face the prospect of batting against Martinez tonight.

Crawford said Martinez, who ranks second to Kennedy in the American League with 15 hit batters this season, will receive the same treatment. McRae said that he hopes that's true but worried that fans would miss out on seeing one of baseball's premier pitchers.

"Suppose he hits someone in the first inning," McRae said. "Then you rob these fans of watching this guy pitch. It's just screwed up."

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