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Sudden demotion stunning to Gardner

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 20, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- As Lee Gardner stretched with teammates in the outfield before batting practice Thursday, manager Hal McRae went to the reliever and asked him to follow.

The two walked from the outfield, through the dugout and into the clubhouse where McRae told Gardner that he was being designated for assignment.

The rather public transaction made room on the 40-man roster for catcher Paul Hoover, who was selected from Triple-A Durham because of a minor injury to John Flaherty.

"It was kind of weird," Gardner said. "To get pulled off during stretch. ... there is professionalism and there is professionalism."

The Rays have 10 days to trade, release or ask waivers on Gardner, who was designated then outrighted to Durham in June and called up again Aug. 18.

Gardner will get his major-league salary until being outrighted to the minors, Tuesday at the earliest. He could refuse an assignment before Oct. 15 and become a free agent.

"You get back up here and all of the sudden you go through it again," said Gardner, 1-1 with a 4.05 ERA in 12 appearances for the Rays. "It's one of those things that's the business aspect of it.

"I gave them a reason to fall into the role of being the guy getting released. We'll see. They made the decision. I just hope I can come back and make them pay for it later on."

Named the International League's top reliever for his 25 saves at Durham this season, Gardner looked better during his second stint with the Rays. He earned his first major-league win at Texas on Aug. 31, and had a 3.72 ERA in 9 2/3 innings.

"I was out there feeling comfortable," Gardner said. "I just started getting everything back."

DAY TO DAY: The Rays needed a backup catcher because Flaherty suffered a fracture on the tip of his left middle finger while trying to catch a Lance Carter pitch Tuesday.

"The ball just came directly and hit me directly and busted up the top of the finger," he said.

The Rays talked to Flaherty about going on the 60-day disabled list, a move he didn't think the injury required. Another option would have been to release Flaherty since the veteran's $3.25-million contract expires after this season.

"I would describe it as a classic day to day thing," he said.

COINCIDENCE: For the second straight September, Hoover got called up after the minor-league season. The 26-year-old played four games for the Rays in June.

"I didn't think I was going to go back up," said Hoover, who hit .455 in six postseason games with Durham.

UNION NEWS: Centerfielder Randy Winn, the assistant player representative, will take part in a 12:30 p.m. conference call today where union officials will begin the process toward ratifying the new labor agreement.

"The executive board will then give instructions on how to get the team vote, what we need to do to get that done," said Flaherty, the team's head player rep. "Then there will be another conference call following it up to get everybody on the same page."

Owners ratified the agreement this month.

IT'S A START: More than 500 pieces of used sports equipment were donated to the "Just Play" equipment drive. Second baseman Brent Abernathy, Lightning forward Brad Richards and Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks are spokesmen for the new program.

"We just want to help as many kids as we can," Abernathy said.

ODDS AND ENDS: Six double plays and a triple play were turned in Dewon Brazelton's first two major-league starts. Six of the seven runs he has allowed have come on homers. ... The Rays are 14-11 against the Yanks in September. They are 6-38 otherwise. ... First-round draft pick B.J. Upton, hospitalized briefly because of dehydration Tuesday, will work out with the instructional league squad at 10:30 a.m. today at the Naimoli Complex.

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