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McGriff makes it eight

RAYS 4, PADRES 1: His 493rd homer ties Gehrig, keys eighth straight win.

Published June 18, 2004

SAN DIEGO - Fred McGriff likes to play humble, often saying how he was thankful for the opportunity to play baseball and blessed to be able to do it for so long.

Thursday, McGriff had reason to be proud. The Tampa-born slugger joined some impressive company, hitting his 493rd career home run to tie the legendary Lou Gehrig for 21st place on the all-time list as the Rays extended their franchise-best winning streak to eight games with a 4-1 win over the Padres.

"It's special, but I've got to keep going. ... Home runs are tough to hit," McGriff said.

"That's pretty impressive," manager Lou Piniella said. "Lou Gehrig is a big, big name in baseball."

McGriff pumped a fist as he rounded first after the sixth-inning two-run blast that put the Rays up 2-1, a rare show of emotion from the 40-year-old who came back to the Rays last month in a quest to reach the historic 500-home run plateau.

"Moment of the game," McGriff said. "I was just into the game; it felt good."

The Rays improved to 19-6 since May 20, matching the Yankees for the best record in the majors during that stretch. They moved to 11/2 games ahead of Baltimore to hang on to third place, which they reached this late in a season for the first time in franchise history Wednesday.

They swept back-to-back series for first time in franchise history and came from behind to win for the eighth time in their past nine victories.

The game was scoreless through the first four innings, though not particularly crisp. Rays starter Chad Gaudin allowed six hits but wriggled out of trouble, and the Padres made a pair of errors.

San Diego broke through in the fifth when Jay Payton tripled to right-center with one out and scored on Mark Loretta's sacrifice fly.

The Rays took the lead back in the sixth. Rocco Baldelli reached when rookie shortstop Khalil Greene rushed in fielding a slow bouncer. With one out, McGriff delivered, lofting a 1-and-0 pitch from Adam Eaton into the porch seats that jut out into the rightfield seats, a shot estimated at 330 feet.

It was the second homer McGriff, who played for the Padres from 1991-93, has hit since rejoining the Rays on May 28. Thursday's game marked the first time he started at first base; his previous six starts came at DH.

McGriff also extended a somewhat odd major-league record: Petco Park was the 43rd major-league stadium he has hit a homer in. Ellis Burks is next with 41 stadiums, Mark McGwire had homers in 39 and Sammy Sosa has 38.

Baldelli made an unheralded defensive play in the sixth to preserve the lead. Phil Nevin was running from first when Ramon Hernandez doubled into the right-centerfield gap, but Baldelli made a sliding stop to keep the ball from going to the wall and forcing Nevin to stop at third. It paid off when reliever Jorge Sosa struck out Greene and Payton to end the inning.

The Rays expanded the lead to 3-1 in the seventh when Carl Crawford singled and stole second and Baldelli singled him in, giving him 10 RBIs in his past six games.

Gaudin, making his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Durham, lasted only five innings, throwing 84 pitches, but earned the win. Gaudin has looked more impressive out of the bullpen than he has as a starter.

The relievers did a good job behind hin, Sosa, Lance Carter, Jesus Colome and Danys Baez teaming to get the final 12 outs.

[Last modified June 18, 2004, 01:57:07]

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