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Rays get unexpected series win

RAYS 3, YANKS 2 (10): Dewon Brazelton keeps New York in sight; Andy Sheets delivers the winning blow.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 20, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Dewon Brazelton gave the Rays an impressive start in his Tropicana Field debut Thursday. But the finish supplied by Andy Sheets made the night a success.

Sheets' bases-loaded single with two outs in the 10th gave the Rays a 3-2 win over the Yankees and a improbable series victory.

"We haven't had that many series that we've won, and to do it against the Yankees, I guess that is a positive," said Ben Grieve, whose double set up the winning hit. "We haven't had too many positives. You can probably count on one hand the number of series that we've won. It's something you wouldn't expect."

The Rays enjoyed taking two of three even more because they knew it hurt the Yankees' bid to finish with the league's best record and secure home-field advantage in the second round of the playoffs.

"These guys are playing for something," Rays manager Hal McRae said. "They really need to win because it's got to be very close and I know they really want the home-field advantage, so it wasn't like they had it wrapped up and were just playing another ballgame. They were playing for something. We just played a little better tonight."

The Rays, it turned out, were playing for something too, though it's unlikely anyone knew it until team PR director Rick Vaughn discovered it Thursday afternoon.

For the most part the Rays want nothing to do with the bungling Casey Stengel-managed Mets teams of the early 1960s that averaged 113 losses a season, but they made an interesting connection. Tampa Bay is the first team to win a series from a first-place club after losing its 100th game since the 1964 Mets did it against the eventual World Series champion Cardinals.

Brazelton pitched well in his second major-league start, holding the Yankees to two runs on seven hits over seven innings. The Rays, who scored in the first thanks to a Raul Mondesi error, tied the score in the eighth on a Randy Winn home run off Steve Karsay, no doubt making Yankees fans even more eager for Mariano Rivera's expected weekend return.

Aubrey Huff started the winning rally off Armwood High product Sterling Hitchcock with a single to left. Grieve followed with a double to right, a ball hit so hard Huff had to drop to a knee to avoid it.

"As soon as he hit it, I said there's no way I'm getting out of the way," Huff said. "I was frozen so I just dropped. I have no idea how it missed me."

The Yankees intentionally walked Toby Hall to load the bases, and Hitchcock went to a 3-and-0 count before coming back to strike out Jared Sandberg.

Sheets, who was recalled from Triple A in late July and has played his way into consideration for a spot on next year's team, fell behind 0-and-2, took two inside fastballs, then slapped a single to left.

Sheets, it turned out, had an advantage. He remembered facing Hitchcock in an April rehab start and getting a splitter once the count got to two strikes. "I was waiting for it, sooner or later," said Sheets, who won an Aug. 15 game with a walkoff homer.

Until Winn tied the score, it appeared Brazelton's strong 99-pitch effort would go to waste.

"Brazelton was impressive," McRae said. "That's a hell of a start start against a good club.

"I was impressed more with his pitch count because I think that's key for any young pitcher. That's the second outing he has been efficient in what he was doing on the mound."

The 22-year-old right-hander, the No. 3 pick in the 2001 draft, said the key was being less nervous than in his Sept. 13 debut and throwing more fastballs, more than in any other game he has pitched.

"It's exciting," Brazelton said. "I'm happy, I'm relieved, I'm a bunch of things."

Brazelton said he learned by watching Paul Wilson pitch Tuesday and talking with veterans such as Wilson and Tanyon Sturtze that the key was to be himself and not be concerned with who he was facing.

"Last time I tried to be too perfect with my pitches and fell behind," Brazelton said. "Watching Paul and those other guys, I realized I didn't have to be that perfect. I felt like I only needed to go out and try to do my own thing."

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