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Kennedy makes like an ace

RAYS 4, JAYS 3: Left-hander returns to form with eight strong innings as Tampa Bay rallies.

By TOM JONES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 23, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Last week, Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella bought pitcher Jorge Sosa a steak dinner for being the first starter to win a game. Maybe now he owes Joe Kennedy a steak-and-lobster dinner.

Kennedy was anointed the ace of the Rays pitching staff in early March, when Piniella tabbed him as the opening day starter.

He finally pitched like the ace of the staff Tuesday. After a horrible spring and uneven start to the regular season, Kennedy gave the Rays their best starting pitching effort of the season in a 4-3 victory against Toronto before 10,013 at Tropicana Field.

"This is the best he has thrown the ball all year," Piniella said. "I thought he threw the ball well in Boston (in his last start) and I told him, 'Throw the ball like that and you're going to get yourself on a nice little roll.' "

Kennedy pitched eight innings of three-run, five-hit ball and retired 13 of the last 14 batters he faced to pick up his first victory since Sept. 15. He retired his final 10 batters and didn't allow a hit after the fourth inning.

"I finally felt good out there, comfortable," Kennedy said. "I felt good out there the last four or five starts. Everything just finally came together. It's just hard to explain. It's something that just clicks."

Catcher Toby Hall delivered the winning hit in the seventh to cap another Tampa Bay comeback. The Rays spotted the Blue Jays a 3-0 lead in the fourth before rallying to win for the second time in the past eight games.

The night, though, belonged to Kennedy, with some help from closer Lance Carter, who picked up his second save.

Kennedy struggled throughout spring training, going 0-4 with a 10.43 ERA and allowing a whopping 32 hits in 14-plus innings. Everyone with the Rays, including the ever-confident Kennedy, acted as if his awful spring were no big deal.

But it became one when the start of the season didn't necessarily change Kennedy's effectiveness. He had shown flashes of returning to form and he said he felt good, but he still went into Tuesday's game with an 0-1 record and a 5.18 ERA in four starts.

Tuesday, though, he looked a lot like the Kennedy who won eight games and tossed a club-record five complete games last season. He had trouble in just one inning and was otherwise dominant, throwing 70 strikes in 106 pitches. He allowed three runs in the fourth on three hits, but the Rays rallied for three in the bottom of that inning on two-out run-scoring singles from George Lombard, Marlon Anderson and Rocco Baldelli.

Aubrey Huff sparked the winning run in the seventh by working a 14-pitch at-bat for a walk and scoring on Hall's single.

Kennedy, now 5-0 in nine starts against Toronto and 11-20 against everyone else, did the rest.

"He was awesome," Hall said.

It's a good start to a six-game homestand after a 2-7 road trip, but it was a bittersweet victory.

The Rays, who already have Travis Lee and Ben Grieve sidelined by injuries, lost outfielder Damian Rolls for three to four weeks with a thumb injury sustained when he dived for a ball in the second inning.

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