tampabay.com

Harper helpless vs. assault

By MARC TOPKIN
Published June 22, 2005


NEW YORK - There wasn't anything anybody could do about it.

Not rightfielder Aubrey Huff, who watched his friend struggle on the mound as balls flew around the outfield and over the fence.

Not manager Lou Piniella, who paced the dugout hoping against hope the Devil Rays could somehow get the final out of a 35-minute eighth inning that would never end.

And definitely not reliever Travis Harper, who stood on the mound frustrated and bewildered as one Yankee after another crushed everything he threw in a horrendous and historically bad performance.

"There's not a whole lot to say about it, really," Harper said, terse but composed at his locker afterward. "It's hard to overanalyze an outing like that."

The basics are bad enough, as Harper tied a major-league record by allowing four home runs in an inning, the 25th pitcher to do so, including three straight in a span of eight pitches.

Harper came on to replace Franklin Nunez with the Rays clinging to an 11-9 lead, and when he was done they were down 20-11. He faced 11 batters and allowed eight hits - the four homers, a triple, a double and two singles - and a walk for a total of 24 total bases.

In the best of times, Harper, a 29-year-old West Virginian, doesn't say much. In what was his worst time on the mound, he was predictably sullen and short.

"I was flat. I was up in the zone. This team has a lot of power," Harper said. "It's a pretty predictable result when you're flat and up over the plate. That's really all I've got to say."

As badly as Harper was struggling, there was some question why the Rays left him in to take such a beating.

Essentially, Piniella said, it was for two reasons: They didn't want to use another pitcher in what had become a losing effort; and they didn't expect Harper to do so badly.

"If I knew he was going to get hit like that, I wouldn't have left him out there," Piniella said. "I thought once they went ahead he'd get the last out of the inning and it'd be over with. It just didn't happen. He just couldn't do it."

Harper said he had no complaints.

"I pitch when they give me the ball," he said. "That's the bottom line. I don't dictate that. I take the ball when they give it to me, and that's all."

Harper's friends didn't try to console him - "You don't talk to him," Huff said - but don't expect him to be scarred by the outing.

"I think he'll be fine," reliever Lance Carter said. "He's the type that will bounce back."

"He has a good head on his shoulders," Huff said. "He's not the kind of guy who's going to watch video all day and harp on it. He's the kind of guy who plays the game and wakes up the next day and, good or bad, he's the same guy."

Catcher Kevin Cash said the problems were a result of several factors - pitch selection, execution and location - and lauded Harper for keeping his frustrations under control.

"You feel for him," Cash said. "You don't want to see a teammate go out there and keep (getting hit) pitch after pitch, but that's the way it happens sometimes. He handled it in a very respectful manner. You would have seen a lot of guys in this game start throwing at people."

Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez said Tuesday's outing was an extension of Harper's rough season, one in which he has six losses, two blown saves and a 9.22 ERA.

"It's been a tough year all the way around for him," Hernandez said. "It's not unlike things that have happened. Every once in a while we take a couple steps forward, and then things come up and it's like we take two steps back."