tampabay.com

Draw suggests fan base is here

By MARC TOPKIN
Published July 21, 2004


ST. PETERSBURG - Sure, there were a lot of them wearing Yankees shirts and hats, but the Devil Rays looked at the almost 70,000 fans who turned out for the two weekday games and saw a sign of good things that could come.

The Rays had their second announced sellout of the season with 41,755 (the revised downsized capacity of Tropicana Field) on Monday after having only one in their first 530 home games, and they followed that with a crowd of 27,613 for Tuesday's matinee.

"Good crowds, really nice crowds," manager Lou Piniella said. "It's the Yankees, but you still have to be interested to come out here. Whether you're playing Podunk University or the New York Yankees, you still have to come here and watch the ballgame. You've got to be pleased with 70,000 people.

"If you put a good team on the field in this town you're going to draw people and it's going to be a successful major-league franchise. That's what this shows more than anything else, and you've got to spend some money to support it."

Since their 12-game winning streak, the Rays have drawn an average of 20,272 for 13 home games.

TRIPLE THE FUN: With a major league-leading 14 triples, Carl Crawford is on his way to some impressive accomplishments.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Crawford is the first player to get five triples in a five-game span in at least 30 years. In the past 35 years only five players have had 14 or more triples by July 20, most recently Minnesota's Cristian Guzman in 2000 and New York Met Lance Johnson in 1990. Crawford is on pace for 25 triples; the last player to have that many in a season was Kiki Cuyler of the Pirates - in 1925.

LONG-TERM VIEW: Talks with top prospect B.J. Upton about a long-term contract, possibly for eight or nine years, are under way.

General manager Chuck LaMar met Monday with Upton's agent, Larry Reynolds, and said discussions will continue over the next couple weeks on what would be an unprecedented deal.

"I'd still categorize the talks as preliminary," LaMar said.

PITCHING IN: Rookie starter Doug Waechter, out since early June with a strained tendon in his right middle finger, is scheduled to take a big step in his recovery Thursday by throwing 30 pitches off the mound. If all goes well he could be back in the Rays rotation by mid August.

Seth McClung, who is recovering from elbow surgery in June 2003, was moved up to Double-A Montgomery to continue his rehab and could be back by early August.

"We probably have a better chance of getting McClung here before Waechter," Piniella said.

TUNING IN: Monday's game not only was the Rays' second announced sellout of the season but their highest-rated over-the-air telecast in four years. The Pax broadcast drew a 4.3 rating (70,705 households), highest since the 2000 season, and peaked in the ninth inning with a 6.49 rating (106,175 households).

MINOR MATTERS: Upton made his 22nd and 23rd errors in his 57th game with Triple-A Durham on Monday. ... Elijah Dukes has three homers in 15 games at Class A Bakersfield. ... Blaze infielder Gabriel Martinez leads the California League with 33 doubles. ... Delmon Young has 71 RBIs in 86 games at Class A Charleston (S.C.).

MISCELLANY: Gary Sheffield's homer was his fourth against the Rays this season. ... The Yankees have outhomered the Rays 25-11 in 14 games. ... Crawford extended his hitting streak to 11 games and had his 36th multihit game, fourth-most in the AL. He also stole his major league-leading 40th base. ... Reliever Bobby Seay has allowed five of his seven inherited runners to score. ... The Rays are 27-20 at home and haven't had a losing homestand since mid May. ... The Rays have scored four runs or fewer in 14 of their past 18 games and are 3-11. ... Mariano Rivera has 32 saves in 32 chances against the Rays.

-MARC TOPKIN