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Another pen special

RAYS 5, TWINS 4: Six shutout innings of relief help Tampa Bay rally and win its second straight series.

By JAMAL THALJI
Published May 28, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - The bullpen is back to its scoreless ways, the bats are hot again and the Devil Rays are back on track.

That familiar formula came together again in Thursday afternoon's 5-4 come-from-behind victory over Minnesota, as Tampa Bay took two of three to win back-to-back series for the first time this season.

Rocco Baldelli's three-run home run (give the assist to the support pole above the C-ring catwalk) in the fourth inning overcame a two-run deficit. The bullpen's franchise record streak of 272/3 scoreless innings ended in Wednesday's loss, but Thursday saw that unit ignite a new streak with six scoreless innings.

That first streak ended on Danys Baez's watch in the ninth the night before, which also saw the end of a five-game win streak. Thursday, the closer retired the side in order, notching his seventh save to a standing ovation of 10,570 at Tropicana Field. The Rays are 6-3 this homestand and guaranteed no less than a .500 finish.

"It's a good win for us," manager Lou Piniella said. "We fell behind and Rocco got us up with that three-run homer and our bullpen came in and did another exceptional, exceptional job."

Now come the Yankees, who start a three-game series tonight at 7:15.

"We're beating good teams now," Baldelli said. "To come out and win a series against a team like this, especially with the Yankees coming here, is huge."

It wasn't just the win, but the kind of win, that had Piniella beaming.

"Those are the confidence builders," he said. "The close games."

Minnesota third baseman Corey Koskie, just off the 15-day disabled list, put his team up 1-0 with a home run to leftfield in the second.

Second baseman Rey Sanchez got his first RBI of the season, singling to right to score shortstop Julio Lugo. Carl Crawford's single bounced off Twins pitcher Carlos Silva at the mound to score catcher Toby Hall and put Tampa Bay up 2-1.

By the third, Jason Standridge's first start of the season for Tampa Bay was over. He gave up five hits and four earned runs, three on Jacque Jones' blast to left to give Minnesota a 4-2 lead.

So Piniella had to call on his bullpen to bail out another starter, and it responded, retiring the side in order in the fourth, sixth, eighth and ninth. Lefty John Halama earned his first win, allowing two hits and striking out two in 31/3 innings. Jorge Sosa struck out two in 12/3 hitless innings. Baez then left first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz and DH Justin Morneau flailing at the plate to end it.

In the past 342/3 innings, the bullpen has allowed one run, struck out 23 and held opposing batters to a .144 average. Now the AL East's last-place team will test that burgeoning confidence against the East's second-place team. "Now we've got a really tough game against the Yankees," Piniella said. "Let's see if we can play well against New York."

The Rays sound ready to do just that.

"It's very motivating when you can face those kinds of hitters and you're doing a good job," Baez said.

"Everybody says "Yankees, Yankees,' but they play baseball just like us."

[Last modified May 27, 2004, 22:50:39]

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