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Rays Tales

MARC TOPKIN
Published September 28, 2003

TAKE THAT, AND THAT, AND THAT: The Devil Rays lost a lot this season, but they didn't often go down without a fight, or a controversy. They were on the scene when Sammy Sosa's bat split and cork came flying out, wondered aloud whether umpires were intentionally ruling against them when they played contenders, caught the Red Sox with a TV monitor in the bullpen they said could be used for sign stealing and complained that the Yankees were crybabies. They also exchanged glares with the Twins, Pirates, Yankees and Jays.

IF ONLY IT WERE HORSESHOES: If nothing else, the 2003 season will be remembered for how close the Rays came to making it so much better. They are 38-51 in major-league high 89 games decided by one or two runs, most since the 1992 Red Sox. They are 23-28 in an AL-high 51 games decided by one run. They are 16-13 in 29 games, second most in the AL, decided from the ninth inning on. They are 10-9 in a major-league-high 19 games decided on the final pitch.

THANKS FOR SOMETHING: Ben Grieve didn't do much during his three seasons with the Rays, hitting .254 with 34 homers and 153 RBIs in 345 games. But it was what he didn't do, specifically argue a called third strike that ended a June 26 game with the Yankees, that may have had the biggest impact on the Rays of anything that happened. Manager Lou Piniella launched an explosive caught-on-camera tirade at Grieve in the dugout, then went off again in his postgame media session, making it very clear he wouldn't accept players who accept losing. The Rays, 25-52 (.325) then, went 37-47 (.440) since.

OUTFIELD OF DREAMS: To see why the Rays think the future is bright, look at the outfield. Rocco Baldelli is a top AL rookie of the year candidate, Carl Crawford leads the AL in stolen bases and Aubrey Huff is toppling team records while ranking among AL leaders in most offensive categories. Overall, the Rays outfield trio has more hits than any other.

ROCKIN' ROCCO: Baldelli's chances to be AL rookie of the year may rest on whether any/many voters discount New York's Hideki Matsui based on his 10 pro seasons in Japan. But there is no debating that Baldelli, who turned 22 Thursday, is one of the best young players to come along. Only 16 others have gotten as many hits at his age or younger.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:

Victor Zambrano, who starts today, is set to become the third pitcher to lead his league in the triple crown of walks, hit batters and wild pitches, joining Brooklyn's Hal Gregg (1944) and Cleveland's George Uhle (1927).

Crawford, 22, will be the fourth youngest to win a league stolen-base title after Ty Cobb (20 in 1907), Rickey Henderson (21 in 1980) and Tim Raines (22 in 1981).

The Rays can become the first team to lead the AL in walks, hit batters and wild pitches since the 1981 Blue Jays.

The Rays are the third team in the past 64 years, and 20th ever, to have three outfielders with 175 hits each. Last were the '99 Royals (Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye) and '54 Cardinals (Wally Moon, Stan Musial and Rip Repulski).

Jeremi Gonzalez, according to ESPN's Jayson Stark and SABR's Doug Pappas, on Aug. 31 became the first pitcher to be ejected from a complete game. (He'd pitched the eighth at Oakland when he got tossed.)

Crawford missed the Aug. 9 game after an accidental collision with GM Chuck LaMar's 10-year-old son, Charlie, while shagging batting practice balls.

On May 17 at Baltimore, the Rays completed a nine-inning game without recording any assists. It had been done six times previously in major-league history, and the Rays did it twice in six months.

NUMBERS 5: Times in six seasons Rays have led AL in hit batters.

10: Rays who made their major-league debut this season.

17: Runs by the Rays in Gonzalez's 11 losses.

21: June losses, most for any month in team history.

23: Times Rays made up a deficit of three or more runs, winning 10.

47: Days between back-to-back victories.

51: Players used, one shy of team record.

51.6: Percent of team victories in which Lance Carter had a win (seven) or save (25).

162: Runs scored or driven in (RBIs plus runs minus HRs) by Huff.

BEST OF LOU On John Rocker's reception in Toronto: "It's like the villain walking into the wrestling ring - the Masked Marauder."

Telling Seattle writers in July how losing games led to him losing weight: "If I look like Twiggy when we get back here in August, you'll know we haven't been doing well."

On a puzzling start by Zambrano: "I'm going to play a Columbo with you guys - I don't understand it."

On Dewon Brazelton taking the New York subway to Brooklyn instead of the Bronx: "I think he must have thought we were playing at Ebbets Field."

On the umpires not calling Oakland catcher Ramon Hernandez out on a check swing: "That check swing there, three blind mice could have called it. My Lord."

On the Red Sox having a TV monitor in their bullpen: "First of all, it's not legal. Second of all, we don't have one in our bullpen. Our pitchers like to play Donkey Kong too."

On what he called the Yankees during Sunday's altercation: "I said that the Yankees are a bunch of crybabies. Not all of them. I said they've got a bunch of them."

BEST OF THE REST Al Martin on Piniella wearing a Japanese good luck outfit: "He looks like one of those painters in Paris or something."

Huff on stealing home: "It was just a freak thing. I'm lucky to get one regular steal."

Rookie Matt Diaz on getting his first hit: "I have an average, which is nice. For the rest of my life. I don't think I can go O-fer enough to get rid of it."

BEST OF THE REST (ROB BELL DIVISION)

On rookie dress-up day: "This is like queer eye for the baseball guy. (Celebrity fashion designer) Isaac Mizrahi would be very proud."

On the bruise from being hit by a ball as the price of victory: "It was a like a midtown Manhattan ATM surcharge."

On his Sept. 6 performance: "Laborious would be the adjective best used to describe that outing."

LOU METER

One wild hat-kicking, one home plate covering, four ejections overall, four games when he didn't talk to the media, two when he did in the clubhouse. Overall, not nearly as bad as some - even close friends - expected.

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