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Rays tales

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published July 31, 2005

HOME IS WHERE THE DOME IS

Not everyone is down on Tropicana Field. Yes, it's sterile, and when it's empty it's one of the drearier places to play. But Red Sox centerfielder and Orlando native Johnny Damon said he gets a kick out of playing there.

"I grew up an hour away from here. It's just a special place for me," he said last week when the World Series champs were in town. "It's great. It's home. And there's the experience of having family here. They don't see me play as much."

Damon also was being practical. The Red Sox had just come from a grueling four-game series with the White Sox in Chicago, which was in the midst of a brutal heat wave that saw temps reach triple digits.

"I was so happy being here at Tropicana," he said. "Being over at (U.S. Cellular Field) the past couple of days, it was hot. The elements are a little different here. You go inside and you play and aren't sweating. I like playing here."

IS FOUR BETTER THAN FIVE?

Rays manager Lou Piniella wanted it clear he was not agitating for anything, "And I'm not trying to innovate anything." But Piniella said he wouldn't mind going back to four-man pitching rotations.

"Look, I'm not complaining about a five-man rotation, but I'm saying baseball should look into it down the road and see if we can get back to where it was," he said. "I don't see anything wrong with it.

"I know I played with the Yankees on championship teams and we had nine pitchers. Now we're up to 12 and some teams think they need 13."

Piniella said he believes pitchers, generally, would get stronger and stay healthier because of the added work. It also would be cheaper for the teams.

Developing pitchers to handle the extra work will take time. And it has to start in the minor leagues.

"You've got to have four horses," Piniella said of a four-man rotation. "You can't have four kids who are not big and strong. You need kids who can take the ball and are strong enough to handle it. That's why it's got to start down there, because you have to get these younger kids used to it.

"If they started in the minor leagues and pitched these kids on four days, I think they'd be better pitchers and have less injuries."

Piniella, though, isn't holding his breath.

"I'm not going to be around when it gets back to four, so I'm not going to worry about it," he said.

THRILL OF A LIFETIME

Was Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo just trying to make a point or was he serious when he said he would consider signing a lifetime contract with Boston?

"I was serious," said the former Hernando High star, who has been involved in trade rumors. "For something that makes sense I would sign a lifetime contract and end my career here.

"I've played in Pittsburgh and have seen what's out there in other places. The passion playing here is completely different. Every game means something. It's like the ALCS every freakin' day, and that makes it fun. I enjoy going to Fenway Park knowing if I get beat up I'm going to get booed. It's fun to have that challenge."

HAPPY TO BE THERE

Piniella said he never has been in Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame ceremonies but has watched them on TV when he can.

"I like hearing the comments the inductees make," he said. "It's exciting. It really is. It's getting to the point where some of the guys I've played with and managed or managed against will be getting there. Yeah, it's a great spectacle."

THE LIST

Entering Saturday, Rays pitchers had issued 413 walks. That's 90 feet of free access to the basepaths. Multiplied by 413, that's 37,170 feet. Considering that a mile is 5,280 feet, Tampa Bay pitchers had issued 7.04 miles of walks.

YOU DON'T SAY

"I don't give a d--- about coming close. I just want to win. ... I'm going to get a tattoo that says losing (bleep)."

- Starting pitcher Seth McClung after last week's 4-1 loss to the Red Sox. [Last modified July 31, 2005, 01:33:10]

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