tampabay.com

Yanks fall on OF's watch

By GREG AUMAN
Published July 20, 2004


ST. PETERSBURG - On a night in which the Rays hit a franchise-record eight doubles, the Yankees were left with the frustrating knowledge that one that should have been an out helped cost them a victory.

Tampa Bay held a 6-5 lead with two outs in the bottom of the sixth when Robert Fick sent a fly ball to left-centerfield. Leftfielder Hideki Matsui and centerfielder Kenny Lofton converged, but at the last second both let up to avoid a collision, allowing the ball to drop and two runs, including the deciding run in the Rays' 9-7 win, to score.

"Obviously I wasn't happy about it," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, who spoke with both players about the defensive breakdown. "Whichever way you do it, you have to find a way to communicate."

For a Rays team that hasn't had many breaks against the Yankees this season, the miscue was something to savor, a key play in a big victory before the team's second home sellout of the year.

"It all evens out, but it sure is nice that it falls in against the Yankees," said Fick, who pinch-hit for rookie Jorge Cantu when reliever Juan Padilla entered the game.

Fick said he expected the ball to be caught, but infielder Aubrey Huff said he sensed trouble when he saw both outfielders signaling for the ball at the same time.

"You need breaks like that when you play those guys," said Huff, who had two doubles and drove in two. "You could kind of see it coming in the dugout. You saw them both looking at each other and you knew they were either going to run into each other or miss it, one of the two. That was a good break. That was a big two runs right there."

Lofton had a rough night at the plate as well, going hitless, grounding into a double play to kill a rally in the fourth and striking out to end the eighth. He had already left the Yankees locker room by the time it was opened to the media. Matsui, speaking through an interpreter, said he did not hear Lofton calling for the ball until it was too late to get out of the way.

"I called for the ball knowing I had a good chance of catching it, but at the very end, I saw Kenny in the side of my eye," he said. "Obviously, centerfield has first privilege in the outfield, and as a result, that's what happened."

Torre said the noise from a sellout crowd at Tropicana Field may have been a factor but said that's no excuse for one player not finding a way to call the other player off.

"I know it's loud out there, and it's indoors, which makes it louder, but you still have to get the job done," he said.

Lofton is not the Yankees' everyday centerfielder, having played the position in 29 of the team's 91 games. Bernie Williams, usually in center, was the designated hitter Monday.

"Mat tried to get out of the way, which is the proper thing. ... Kenny is the quarterback in this thing as a centerfielder. They both sort of shied away from it," Torre said.

Instead of the Yankees being down one run, they trailed by three, and instead of Ruben Sierra's eighth-inning two-run homer giving the Yankees the lead, it left them one run behind.

"Those plays just happen sometimes," Matsui said.