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Winning four, tune changes

BOB HARIG
Published May 24, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Dread has turned to delight, caution replaced by confidence. Four games does not make a season. But it made for a nice weekend at Tropicana Field, where the Devil Rays were feeling much better about themselves Sunday.

Tino Martinez' 10th-inning single drove in Rocco Baldelli for a 5-4 victory over the Indians, who had swept the Rays a week ago in Cleveland.

The victory before an announced crowd of 10,555 was Tampa Bay's fourth straight, matching the longest streak in manager Lou Piniella's tenure. It was just a few days ago that Piniella was questioning his team's effort, and the Rays were wondering what could go wrong next after they had lost five in a row and 12 of 13.

All of a sudden, there is a different attitude in the clubhouse.

"Everything's a lot better," said Martinez, who pulled a line drive into rightfield off Indians reliever David Riske with the bases loaded. "The pitching's been good, the bullpen's been outstanding.

"You win a few games in a row, and your team builds confidence and you begin to take off.

"We're taking the field with a lot more confidence. No matter if we fell behind or not, we knew we were in the game until the end. Now we're expecting to win. Even when we fell behind, we knew we were going to come back and battle. And we did."

That wasn't necessarily the case four days ago, when the optimism of spring training had turned to disgust. Thursday morning, the Rays were 18 games under .500 and had yet to win consecutive games this season. Baldelli admitted it was difficult showing up with the proper perspective.

"When you lose games consistently like we were the last couple of weeks, it's tough to come in and be confident," the centerfielder said. "It's one thing to say you can win, but it's another to know deep down that you're good enough to win every game."

The Rays, however, didn't get flustered when they fell behind 3-0 in the first inning. Starter Mark Hendrickson allowed the runs after getting the first two outs, giving up three hits and a walk.

But he settled down, allowing only a fourth-inning homer to Cleveland's Alex Escobar. Travis Harper, who pitched three scoreless innings in relief, got his first victory of the season and increased the bullpen's franchise-best streak to 22 scoreless innings.

"After the first inning, I had to regroup, forget about what happened," said Hendrickson, who went seven innings. "It was nice we scored some runs. It's all you can ask for as a starter is to give your team a chance to win. Now we're starting to put some streaks together, get some confidence, and that's what you need."

The Rays answered with three runs in the bottom of the first. A single by Aubrey Huff scored Damian Rolls, who had walked and gone to third on a double by Baldelli. Jose Cruz walked, and Baldelli scored when Martinez was hit by a pitch thrown by Cleveland starter Cliff Lee. The Rays tied it with Toby Hall's run-scoring groundout.

Hall later tied the score at 4 in the fourth when he homered to match the one hit by Escobar in the top of the inning.

Neither team scored again until the 10th. With one out, Baldelli doubled. Riske then intentionally walked Huff before a walk to Cruz loaded the bases. Martinez fell behind 0-and-2 before ripping a fastball to right. "I was just trying to put it in play," he said.

He did, and the Rays get to bask in their longest winning streak since August.

"We've talked about it. Winning builds confidence," Piniella said. "People relax a little more. Success breeds confidence. Whether it's hitting, whether it's pitching. We're starting to win with a little more regularity. I know this, I'm going to enjoy my off day a lot better."

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