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Quick moves save OFs from ugly crash

By MARC TOPKIN
Published July 25, 2003

BOSTON - The team-record 21 hits the Devil Rays got Thursday were great. The one that nearly happened between outfielders Rocco Baldelli and Damian Rolls would have been horrible.

In pursuit of a fifth-inning line drive to right-center by Johnny Damon, both were running full speed right at each other. At the last second they avoided what would have been a nasty collision, Rolls making an inside move and diving fully extended to make a spectacular catch as Baldelli went into a full body slide behind him.

"We would have been ugly," Rolls said.

Rolls said he had played enough with Baldelli to know his moves and really wasn't worried.

"He knows what I'm thinking and I know what he's thinking," Rolls said. "I realized he was going in back of me with the sliding catch we've seen him do plenty of times, so I figured I'd go ahead and dive in front."

Actually they had started side-by-side only seven times and finished a few other games. In other words, they were lucky.

"I think if either of us was going to catch it we were going to have to dive for it, so it's not something where you're going to call it early," Baldelli said. "We both got to it about the same time. I saw him coming so I slid behind him. It's not like something you have a lot of time to think about. ...

"We were pretty close, but we didn't touch. Any time outfielders get close, people think the worst."

MEETING OF THE MINDS: General manager Chuck LaMar and manager Lou Piniella met for more than an hour Thursday morning, talking about trade possibilities and other ways to improve the team in the future.

With less than a week until Thursday's deadline for nonwaiver trades, it doesn't sound as if the Rays will make a deal - they have the rare commodity of low-priced starting pitching - unless a better offer comes along.

"For us to do anything it's got to make sense for the future, and I'm not talking about the future three or four years from now, I'm talking about the future being the rest of this year and the next few years," Piniella said.

"If somebody offers us a position player who can step in and play every day for us the rest of this year and the next few years, that's the type of deal we're looking for."

W FOR THE Z-MAN: Victor Zambrano was in an unusual position, pitching with a nine-run lead, and it showed.

Ideally in that situation, pitchers are supposed to throw strikes and let the batters put the ball in play, but Zambrano went a little overboard, giving up six runs on three home runs during a 22/3-inning span.

"He just got a little careless, but he pitched well," Piniella said. "By careless I'm talking about trying to get the game over too quick. That's inexperience."

Zambrano, at 7-5 one victory shy of his career high, was just pleased the team hung on.

"Sometimes it's hard to pitch with a lead," he said. "You try to make the hitters swing as much as possible."

ODD BREAK: Toby Hall broke his bat during his seventh inning at-bat without hitting the ball. Hall swing so hard at a Todd Jones pitch that his bat snapped inches above the handle. Jones picked up the barrel and approached Hall. "He said, "You're a strong individual,' then he threw me a 3-2 curveball that buckled me," Hall said.

JOE A GO: Joe Kennedy will start as scheduled Sunday in Chicago. The Rays considered moving him back to Tuesday so he could face the Blue Jays, against whom he is 6-0, but decided to keep the rotation in order and pitch him against Toronto at the Trop Aug. 6.

REST STOP: Piniella plans to keep Rolls in rightfield for a few days with Aubrey Huff as the DH, then start rotating other players, including regulars such as Baldelli, Travis Lee and Marlon Anderson, into the DH role. "It's a rest spot more than anything," he said.

MISCELLANY: Had the Rays lost, the nine-run lead would have been the largest they'd blown. ... Baldelli broke Randy Winn's 1998 rookie record of 51 runs scored. ... Antonio Perez's five RBIs tied Bubba Trammell's 1998 rookie record. ... Perez also had his third three-hit game.

[Last modified July 25, 2003, 01:33:11]

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