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LHP in the zone at site of debut

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 16, 2002


TORONTO -- A visit to the stadium where he made his major-league debut last season again proved beneficial for Rays pitcher Joe Kennedy.

TORONTO -- A visit to the stadium where he made his major-league debut last season again proved beneficial for Rays pitcher Joe Kennedy.

The left-hander allowed two runs on three hits over seven innings for his first win in seven starts and now is 4-0 with a 3.89 ERA lifetime against Toronto.

"It takes a little bit of weight off my shoulders," Kennedy said. "I really didn't have too much of a concern. It happens to everybody where you go through a little stretch where you're not throwing very well."

After allowing a two-run homer to third baseman Eric Hinske, Kennedy pitched six consecutive scoreless innings before being relieved before the start of the eighth.

He retired the final 11 batters he faced and 13 of the last 14.

"The key word was keeping the ball down," shortstop Felix Escalona said. "That's what he did and he had pretty good command."

Kennedy had allowed 15 runs in 112/3 innings after taking a break to rest a tired arm following a 32/3-inning outing against the White Sox on Aug. 25. Sunday marked the 10th time in 29 starts this season he has allowed two runs or fewer.

"My arm feels good now," Kennedy said. "My last two outings have felt good. I just had a little bit of a rough outing. It's good to go out there and have a quality game."

PRO-TORONTO: Escalona continued his offensive success against the Blue Jays by matching a career high with three hits.

"(Toronto starter Esteban) Loaiza has got a pretty good sinker and a good slider," said Escalona, who tied the score with a run-scoring single in the fifth. "I just selected pitches. Every time I went to the plate I found somebody on base."

In five games against Toronto, Escalona is hitting .667 with three doubles, three RBIs and six runs. He set his career high for hits June 5 at SkyDome.

COMIC RELIEF: Relief pitcher Wilson Alvarez drew more than a few chuckles from teammates and coaches after being hit in the backside by a line drive from Shannon Stewart in the eighth.

"I'll have a bruise for a couple of weeks, I guess," Alvarez said. "I didn't see it at all. There were a few people with white T-shirts on (behind the backstop) and I didn't see it. I felt it, but I didn't see it."

The infielders, manager Hal McRae and head trainer Jamie Reed circled Alvarez immediately after the play when the left-hander cracked a joke.

What was so funny that infielders had to put their gloves to their faces to hide their laughter remained a closely guarded secret after the game.

"I like to have fun and they know it," said Alvarez, who allowed two runs on five hits in 12/3 innings.

NOT SO FAST: The Rays nearly escaped without seeing Jose Cruz during the three-game series.

The outfielder was activated from the 15-day disabled list before Sunday's game and pinch hit in the ninth. On the first pitch he saw from Alvarez, Cruz hit his seventh home run of the season against the Rays to make it 7-3.

It was his second career pinch-hit homer and first of the season.

"He likes to see us coming," McRae said. "He knows something good is going to happen. I don't think we've ever gotten him out."

ODDS AND ENDS: Second baseman Brent Abernathy, who started for the third time this month, singled in the fifth for his first hit since Aug. 30. ... The Rays are 5-11 against Toronto this season and 30-42 against the Blue Jays all-time. ... More than 20 players and coaches will spend their final off day of the season at the Rays of Hope golf tournament today at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club. The tournament starts at noon and is sold out.

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