Fans get in their gripes while Rays just keep winning
By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 22, 2002
ST. PETERSBURG -- The fans came with questions, a letter requesting the manager's resignation and various ideas aimed at helping the Rays become a winner.
General manager Chuck LaMar sat at a table beside Hal McRae and listened.
He answered. And he attempted to give the season ticket holders gathered Saturday at Tropicana Field a reason to keep believing.
"We knew it was going to be an uphill battle with the personnel and the payroll that we have," LaMar told the group a few hours before the Rays beat the Blue Jays 4-3 before 13,351. "This coming year we're going to be developing young players, we're going to go out and make some moves.
"I truly think it's going to be a year or two before you see a tremendous turn in the wins and losses. ... But over the next year or two I think it's still going to be a building process."
That process, if it goes as planned, could include more encouraging stretches like the one the Rays are experiencing.
More than five months after they began the season by sweeping the Tigers and 101 losses later, the Rays have won three consecutive and five of six and could finish the home schedule with a sweep of the Blue Jays today.
"This is a good stretch," McRae said. "But the key to this stretch, and I'm talking from experience, is don't give it all back.
"If we play terrible next week and next weekend (in New York and Boston) you feel like you really haven't accomplished anything. But this is a good feeling, to feel like you're going to win every night regardless of what happens."
Rookie Carl Crawford's double in the eighth was the winner. Travis Phelps and Lance Carter pitched four scoreless innings of relief.
Carter has pitched 12 consecutive scoreless innings.
"We are definitely playing better," rightfielder Ben Grieve said. "The season is kind of over so I don't think momentum matters much right now. But it's never too late to put something together."
The Blue Jays took a 3-0 lead in the third after two Rays errors.
First it was starter Joe Kennedy, who allowed a Ken Huckaby ground ball to pass between his legs for his 10th error of the season. Then Rays centerfielder Randy Winn and leftfielder Crawford both called for a fly ball, with Crawford dropping it.
The next batter, Vernon Wells, hit a 1-and-2 pitch over the left-centerfield wall. "I just left a curveball in the middle of the plate and he hit it out," said Kennedy, who entered with a 4-0 career record against the Blue Jays.
The left-hander lasted five innings but threw 96 pitches. He allowed three unearned runs on four hits, striking out three and walking one.
"They put the bat on the ball," Kennedy said. "They didn't make it easy for me. Every batter that came up to the plate I felt like I threw about 12 or 15 pitches to."
As Phelps and Carter kept Toronto in check, the Rays didn't figure out Blue Jays starter Pete Walker until the seventh and eighth. Toby Hall tied the score at 3 in the seventh with a double, and Crawford put the Rays ahead 4-3 in the eighth with his double to left off Felix Heredia.
"Hopefully we can keep some smiles around here," Crawford said.
Whose smiles will be around next season?
The Rays of 2003 could have a decidedly different feel than what fans will see for the final time today.
The pitching staff could be overhauled depending on the outcome of arbitration cases involving Tanyon Sturtze, Paul Wilson, Ryan Rupe and Esteban Yan. Winn and first baseman Steve Cox also are arbitration eligible.
Veteran catcher John Flaherty and pitcher Wilson Alvarez are free agents, and designated hitter Greg Vaughn could be traded during the offseason.
LaMar will meet with McRae, whose contract runs through the 2003 season, while the team is in New York this week.
"We're going to sit down and go through the entire organization and evaluate where we are," he said. "We have to get better. We know we're still young. We're still going to struggle at times, but we have to get better.
"It's his job and it's my job to make us better."
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