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Thrilling win keeps 100 losses at bay

Travis Lee homer, clutch work from Chad Gaudin, controversial call help Rays to 5-4 win over Red Sox.

MARC TOPKIN
Published September 28, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG - The division races have been decided, the wild cards won, the playoff teams paired. But the Devil Rays go into the final day of the season today with something to play for: the chance to avoid becoming the 11th team to lose 100 games in three consecutive seasons.

"Nobody," closer Lance Carter said, "wants to lose 100 games."

The Rays kept their loss total at 99, and pushed their win total to 62, by beating the Red Sox 5-4 Saturday in a game entertaining to the end for most of the 25,635 at Tropicana Field.

The Rays won because they got four runs in the first inning, including Aubrey Huff's club record-tying 106th RBI; a go-ahead homer in the third and more Gold Glove-caliber defense from first baseman Travis Lee; 41/3 dominating innings from impressive rookie Chad Gaudin in relief of Rob Bell; Carter's 25th save; and a huge hand from a Boston fan that may have saved the game.

With one out in the ninth, Boston's Dave McCarty, a former Ray, lofted a fly ball to deep left-center. Carl Crawford had the ball in his sights, went back to the 11-foot, 5-inch high wall, timed his jumped ... and watched in disbelief as the fan caught the ball.

"I thought I had it all the way," Crawford said.

Second-base umpire Joe West agreed and called McCarty out because of spectator interference, drawing howls of protest from the Red Sox and more than a few smiles from the Rays.

"He was a Boston fan, but he threw the ball back. That surprised me," Crawford said. "It was funny. The guy next to him gave him a look like, "Uh, oh. You done something you shouldn't have done.' "

The call preserved the win that was made possible by Gaudin, the 20-year-old who has impressed manager Lou Piniella enough to be a top candidate for a spot in next season's bullpen. "The real story of the game," Piniella said.

Worn down by a tough September schedule, the Rays haven't won much lately, losing 21 of their past 31 and putting their quest to avoid 100 losses in jeopardy.

Some players said it wasn't that big a deal. "It's only really a number," Rocco Baldelli said. "It's not going to define our season whether we win or lose the last game."

"It's only something the media brings up to make us look worse than we are," catcher Toby Hall said.

In any case, it's still something to avoid. Piniella, who has managed in some real "must-win" games, said he'll play the regulars and they'll do everything they can to win.

"It comes down to the last day of the season," Piniella said. "It'll be interesting."

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