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Home run woes sink Waechter again

YANKEES 7, RAYS 5: Tampa Bay rookie allows three more, giving him 14 this season and leaving manager concerned.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 29, 2004

photo
[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Doug Waechter takes a stroll as Hideki Matsui rounds the bases in the fifth on one of three Yankee homers off the Rays starter.

ST. PETERSBURG - The theme for the night at Tropicana Field was obvious: local product, a Devil Rays uniform and home runs.

But the story wasn't about Tampa's Fred McGriff hitting any more homers but about St. Petersburg's Doug Waechter giving up too many.

The rookie right-hander allowed three more Friday, making it an American League-high 14 in seven games, and the Rays couldn't keep up, losing to the Yankees 7-5.

McGriff, who returned to the Rays in his bid for 500 home runs, popped out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth as the Rays tried but couldn't quite escape the hole Waechter put them in.

The three homers he allowed accounted for the first six Yankees runs, a two-run shot by Ruben Sierra on a 3-and-0 pitch with two out in the fourth, a three-run shot by Tampa's Gary Sheffield on a 1-and-0 pitch with one out in the fifth and a two-out shot on a 1-and-0 pitch later that inning by Hideki Matsui. (Derek Jeter added a shot in the ninth off Lance Carter.)

The 14 home runs Waechter has allowed - in only 412/3 innings - match Seattle's Jamie Moyer for most in the American League. What makes it worse is that of the 22 earned runs Waechter has allowed in seven starts, 20 have come on home runs.

"I'm getting concerned with Waechter and his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark," manager Lou Piniella said. "I'm going to have a talk with him. That's 14 of them. He's either got to hit better spots or make better pitches. He gives up too many. And they're not singletons."

Waechter said there is no one reason for the number of long balls he gives up. Friday, he said the problem was consistently falling behind the veteran Yankee hitters, leaving too many pitches when he had to throw the ball over the plate.

"You can't do that against this lineup," he said. "You need to attack these guys, and I just felt like I was feeling for it all night and never could really get in a groove."

Piniella said that he wasn't sure what the flaw was but that it had better be corrected.

"We're going to find out tomorrow what the problem is," Piniella said. "His velocity wasn't as good as it was early in the year. I don't know if he's aiming it a little bit, I don't know what it is. I do know that he's been falling behind in the count and he's getting hit and he's getting hit out of the ballpark."

Sierra's homer, with two outs in the fourth, erased a 2-0 Tampa Bay lead. "Everyone in the ballpark knows he's swinging 3-and-0," Piniella said. "You've got to have a sense of what's going on out there."

Sheffield's blast, the 384th of his career, put the Yankees ahead to stay, continuing his, and their, hot streak. The former Hillsborough High star is on an 8-for-16 run and has 10 RBIs in his past 10 games; the Yankees have won five straight and scored 56.

"This is a lot closer to what we're capable of than what we were doing earlier in the season, and the one guy I'd brag about is Sheffield," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

"He has really been punishing the ball the last few days. I'm not surprised, I'm just surprised I wasn't right sooner. There's nobody, and again it's all in the body language, but there's nobody it looks like that he fears or doesn't think he can hit the ball hard on."

The homer by Matsui, who is on a 17-for-37 tear, made it 6-2, but the Rays battled back, entertaining a paid crowd of 20,627 with blatantly divided loyalties.

Aubrey Huff, who tied his career high with four hits, homered in the fifth, and the Rays got two in the seventh to make it 6-5. They had chances for more, Robert Fick striking out with two on to end the seventh, Rocco Baldelli grounding out with Carl Crawford on second to end the eighth, Huff's leadoff single in the ninth going to waste.

"The kids played hard and played well," Piniella said. "We just got beat."

[Last modified May 29, 2004, 01:00:33]

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