Rays home run barrage not efficient, just effective
RAYS 5, RANGERS 4: It takes five homers, two each by Tino Martinez and Geoff Blum. That's enough, but barely.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 5, 2004
Rays outfielder Carl Crawford slides safely for a leadoff triple as Texas' Hank Blalock takes the throw in the third inning. Crawford shares the American League with four triples this season.
ARLINGTON, Texas - The Devil Rays have had trouble bunching hits together to score runs. So Tuesday, they tried something different, hitting a bunch of home runs.
The Rays used five homers - two each by Tino Martinez and Geoff Blum - and some nifty ninth-inning escape work by Danys Baez to beat the red-hot Rangers 5-4.
"Just enough," manager Lou Piniella said. "It was good to see."
It was the most homers the Rays have hit in a game since a team-record six on Aug. 10, 2002, at Kansas City. It was the first time they had two players hit two home runs in a game. It was the first time they had a player, Blum, hit homers from both sides of the plate in a game.
Most important, it was the first time in more than three weeks they won twice in a three-game span.
"I just think it was important to win," said Martinez, whose ninth-inning shot provided the final margin. "A win, period. If we won 1-0 with one solo shot, we needed a win. It was nice to get some homers by our offense and hopefully certain guys get going and start swinging the bat like we're capable of. At this point, we'll just take a win however we can get it."
The Rays had hoped for this type of production from Martinez, who leads the team with five homers after hitting 15 all of last season with St. Louis. He hit a two-out homer in the sixth on Texas starter Chan Ho Park's final pitch, and a leadoff shot in the ninth in his first at-bat against longtime Seattle and New York teammate Jeff Nelson for the 20th multihomer game of his career.
"Tino knows how to play," Piniella said. "He's still dangerous."
The Rays had wondered if they were ever going to get it from Blum, a switch-hitter who had struggled since being acquired from Houston. Blum went deep left-handed off Park in the fifth then right-handed in the seventh off lefty reliever Erasmo Ramirez, his first from that side in more than a year and the second time he'd homered from both sides in the same game.
Piniella last week said he was disappointed in Blum's performance, and Blum objected to what he considered public criticism, leading to a somewhat heated exchange between the two in the dugout last Wednesday in Boston. Since then Blum has hit in every game he has played, going 6-for-17 to raise his average from .111 to .205 and picked up first two RBIs.
Coincidence? You decide.
"We cleared the air," Blum said. "We realized that we were on the same page and both fighting for the same cause. I think that was the biggest thing. I wanted to let Lou know that I wanted to play and I wanted to help this ballclub win, and I think Lou wanted to know I wanted to help this ballclub win. Maybe it is coincidence, maybe it's not. But that's just how things are working."
The end didn't come easily Tuesday. Carl Crawford, playing centerfield in place of Rocco Baldelli, got a late break on Laynce Nix's sinking liner and made an ill-advised dive, turning it into a double, and Nix moved to third on a bunt. But Jose Cruz made a running catch of Michael Young's fly ball down the rightfield line and then a strong throw to keep Nix at third, and Baez struck out Hank Blalock with a blazing 96 mph fastball.
"That last pitch Baez threw exploded at home plate," Piniella said.
"Power versus power," Baez said.
The Rays were in position to win because of a solid outing by Victor Zambrano, who weaved in and out of trouble as usual during his seven innings, throwing a career-high 134 pitches.
"Zambrano pitched his butt off," Piniella said.
Said Zambrano: "I wasn't going to lose this game."