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So good, Rays go for thirds

RAYS 6, INDIANS 3: Jose Cruz homers for second straight game as Tampa Bay's first winning streak reaches three.

ROGER MILLS
Published May 23, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Now, this is a streak.

After registering their first back-to-back wins of the season, the Rays were understandably guarded about celebrating.

But thanks to a 6-3 win over the Indians before an announced 12,008 at Tropicana Field on Saturday, the streak looks a little more legit.

Hold on to your britches: The Rays are three games behind the Blue Jays.

"What it really shows is that we pieced together three good games," manager Lou Piniella said. "I'm not going to make any predictions, but let's just continue to play hard, and if that happens there's a chance for good things to happen."

The suddenly defiant and deadly Rays continued to pound opposing pitchers. They also continued to play solid defense and pitch just well enough to keep the game in check before handing it over to an improving bullpen.

"I think (three in a row) is awesome," winning pitcher Doug Waechter said. "Let's go for four, why not? It's nice. We've been on the road for a while and it's a chance to get back home, get some wins under our belt and start having fun again."

For the second straight night the assault was led by Jose Cruz, who appears to have little fear of pitching this series. Cruz gave the Rays a 3-0 lead with a towering home run in the first, his fifth straight hit against Cleveland.

"Synchronicity, I would say," Cruz said of his hot streak. "Everything is working as one, really. I'm concentrated and focused. Everything is perfect."

And it's spreading. With a 4-3 lead in the eighth, Tino Martinez doubled down the first-base line to score Rocco Baldelli, who was 3-for-4 with three runs, and Aubrey Huff. That gave the Rays a three-run cushion.

"(Cruz's hitting) should have a filtering effect through the lineup," Piniella said. "It really should."

Credit should go to Waechter, who wasn't at his best but battled to his second win of the season. He pitched into the seventh and gave up three runs on four hits with one walk.

Before the game, Piniella stressed he had been impressed with Waechter's performance and aggressiveness. He did concede, however, that the young pitcher was having to fine-tune his game in the majors rather than in the minors, a situation not quite ideal.

Saturday, Waechter took another lesson in Big League 101 and seemed no worse for it. He gave up all his runs on homers by Travis Hafner, Matt Lawton and Victor Martinez. But he was told by catcher Brook Fordyce that it would be hard to lose giving up solo shots.

"He did tell me that after the second one," Waechter said. "It was good advice. I didn't really think about it. You never want to give up a home run but if you have to, it's obviously best that they are solo."

The St. Petersburg native didn't crumble and exited with a 4-3 lead and a chance to win.

The Rays escaped in the eighth when the lead seemed ready to slip away. Pitching in relief, Jorge Sosa gave up hits to Alex Escobar and Lawton to lead off. But Sosa got Omar Vizquel to ground into a double play and Jody Gerut to fly out to center to end the threat.

He then put away the Indians in the ninth for his first save of the season.

"Sosa did an outstanding job," Piniella said. "We had Baez ready, but I really didn't want to use him three days in a row. Sosa closed it out and did an outstanding job."

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