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A fun day at the matinee

RAYS 5, TWINS 2: Tampa Bay has many reasons to enjoy its 10th victory in 14 games.

Published June 4, 2004

[AP photo]
Rays catcher Toby Hall congratulates reliever Danys Baez after Baez converted his 10th save.

MINNEAPOLIS - The bats have warmed up. The pitching has improved. The schedule has gotten easier. The mood has gotten lighter. The confidence has grown. The smiles have come more frequently.

And the victories have, too.

There isn't any one reason the Devil Rays have stopped the losing and started to turn around their season, Thursday's 5-2 matinee victory over the Twins making it 10 wins in their past 14 games.

There are many.

"The big one is that we're holding on to the games we have leads in, and you can credit the bullpen for that," manager Lou Piniella said. "The second is our bats. We talked about needing a five-six run offense, and we've started to score five-six runs more consistently. We've started to give our pitchers a little bit of a breather, and they're pitching with leads and it's made a difference."

Aubrey Huff, whose three-run homer was the difference Thursday, said things started to get better two weeks ago when the Rays - finally - won back-to-back games for the first time this season.

"We won two in a row, and before you knew it we won three, and after that we got a little winning streak going, and everyone started relaxing, and you started to see some smiles coming to the ballpark and everyone having some fun and wise-cracking on each other," Huff said. "Everyone started relaxing and having a little more fun at the ballpark. And when you're having fun, guys are jelling a little more, and when you're jelling, you're playing better baseball.

"The first month-and-a-half, it was a nightmare coming to the field. Every day you woke up and you dreaded coming because you knew your chances weren't very good. Everyone was so down. We had four-five guys hitting in the .100s., the pitchers weren't throwing very well, nothing was going right. We kept saying eventually it was going to turn around, and, finally, we're starting to see some progress."

Thursday's game was one they probably would not have won a month ago. Mark Hendrickson gave up a homer on his fourth pitch. A couple of more Minnesota hits made it 2-0 in the fourth. And the Rays were being no-hit by Johan Santana through five innings.

It all changed in the sixth.

Geoff Blum, 0-for-his-past 20, broke up the no-hitter with a leadoff double, moved to third on a fly ball and scored on a two-out single by Julio Lugo. Rocco Baldelli followed with a single, then Huff hit a hanging 0-1 slider 417 feet into the football press box high above right-centerfield to make it 4-2.

Huff is a big part of the revival. He has hit .344 with 23 RBIs his past 24 games to raise his average from .186 to .263, is on a team- and season-high 12-game hitting streak and has four homers and 12 RBIs in his past seven games.

There was a chance for trouble in the seventh when Hendrickson walked No. 9 hitter Alex Prieto with one out. But Travis Harper came on to get a ground-ball double play, then sailed through the eighth. Danys Baez worked the ninth for his 10th straight save.

The Rays won their first road series since August and their first in Minnesota since 2001.

"We're pleased to come in here and win three of four," Piniella said. "It's getting better. All we can do is forget what happened early in the season and continue to play."

[Last modified June 3, 2004, 21:08:06]

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