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Brazelton pitches just well enough for first win
RAYS 3, RANGERS 2: After two poor starts, the opening-day starter allows only two homers and gets help.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 22, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - Dewon Brazelton wasn't perfect. Far - about 822 feet of Texas home runs - from it. But he did Thursday what most of the Tampa Bay starters haven't been doing, which is keep the Devil Rays close.
With some help from his friends - new addition Jonny Gomes, catcher Toby Hall, centerfielder Carl Crawford and relievers Travis Harper and Danys Baez - close actually was good enough as the Rays pulled out a 3-2 victory over Texas.
Brazelton, the opening-day starter, had lost his first three starts and looked increasingly worse in doing so, walking six in his past two outings. But Thursday, he worked crisply and aggressively, limiting his mistakes over 61/3 innings to two home runs, and won for the first time since Aug.22, a stretch of 11 starts.
"It feels good to get the whammy off my back," Brazelton said. "I just wanted to go out there ... and throw strikes. I didn't want to walk a bunch of people. I wanted to try and reverse that and make them hit me and earn everything they got."
Manager Lou Piniella noticed two differences.
"He was in the strike zone," Piniella said, "and he competed well."
Brazelton didn't let the two homers - a 428-footer by Mark Teixeira in the fourth that is the longest at Tropicana Field this season and 394-footer by Kevin Mench in the fifth - amount to much. And in the sixth, with two on and two out, he responded with what might have been his biggest pitch of the night, striking out Richard Hidalgo with a 93 mph fastball.
"I knew that I struck him out the time before with a slider away, and I was thinking slider," Brazelton said. "But Toby made a great call, as he does most of the time, and I just threw what he called."
When Brazelton tired in the seventh, the Rays called on Harper, and Brazelton, who left to a big ovation from a small crowd of 8,799, took a step toward him.
"We're kind of like "road dogs' a little. We ride home together sometimes and have a lot of conversations," Brazelton said. "It's always good to see him come in. He always does a great job. I just wanted to let him know I was confident in him, and I thanked him ahead of time for picking me up."
Harper took care of it from there, retiring five batters to run his streak of perfect innings to seven. His secret? Nothing special: throw strikes, keep the ball down, get ahead.
"All the ABCs of pitching," Harper said. "I'm as boring as they get."
There was some excitement in the ninth. Baez - getting his first save opportunity in the Rays' 16th game - got two quick outs, gave up two quick hits then watched as Crawford just barely ran down Gary Matthews' rising liner in centerfield.
Gomes was brought up from Triple A because of his power, but he sparked a two-run rally in the second with speed and aggressiveness. He went from first to third on Hall's single, prompting an errant throw from Hidalgo in right that allowed him to score.
"Just digging," Gomes said. "It's all about doing anything you can to get there."
The Rangers tied it with the two homers, but the Rays scratched out another run in the sixth as Gomes walked, went to second on Hall's single, third on an excellent bunt by Nick Green and scored on Crawford's ground out.
"Good defense, good pitching and just enough hitting," Piniella said.