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Lou hopes Rays' mojo still works
By MARC TOPKIN
Published September 6, 2005
NEW YORK - Lou Piniella swears he doesn't know why the Devil Rays have been so successful against the Yankees this season, winning nine of their first 13 games.
But with a three-game series starting tonight, and another next week at Tropicana Field, he just wants to see them keep it up.
"I wish I had a definitive answer," Piniella said. "I'm hoping it continues."
The Rays' success has been unprecedented. The nine wins are not only their most for a season but match their total from the past two. They are 4-2 in New York after going 0-10 last season, 11-44 through the first seven. They are 3-0-1 in series play after winning only four of the first 37 (4-27-6).
One thing the Rays have done is take advantage of the Yankees' pitching problems, hitting .295, averaging 6.6 runs and belting 17 homers. (The Yankees' 6.28 ERA against the Rays is their worst against any opponent.) And beating Randy Johnson in their second game of the season at Yankee Stadium may have provided some much-needed confidence.
They'll need it this week - and maybe next - with crowds trying to boost the wild-card leading Yankees into the postseason. "You saw the crowds in Boston; they're gearing up for the postseason," Piniella said. "In New York it's probably going to be a lot of the same. It should be fun."
YOU COMPLETE ME: The Rays have already extended their major-league record by going 138 games into the season without a complete game, and the way things are going they have a good chance to get to 162, which would make them the first team to go an entire season without one.
Four teams, including the 2001 Rays, have gone through a season with only one; the others are the 2002 Rockies, 2003 Astros and 2004 Yankees.
One reason the Rays games are incomplete is that they have relatively young starters on pitch-count limits. Thus the primary concern is their long-term development, meaning the Rays are not going to take chances with their arms.
Another reason is that when the Rays have a lead, they are almost always going to turn it over to closer Danys Baez , their highest-paid and most dependable pitcher.
"Complete games are not our priority," pitching coach Chuck Hernandez said. "If it happens, that'd be great."
The best chance for a complete game may be what nearly happened Saturday, when Seth McClung pitched eight innings in what looked to be a road loss before the Rays rallied in the ninth.
RUMOR MILL: With negotiations continuing to get Piniella out of the final year of his contract, the chatter over where he could land will be revving up. New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden wrote Sunday that if Joe Torre doesn't get the Yankees into the postseason, " ( George ) Steinbrenner is going to be looking for heads to sever, and with his "favorite son' Sweet Lou out there as a free agent, well, it may be too much for the Boss to resist."
REMEMBERING JACK: Piniella had a reason to congratulate Marlins manager Jack McKeon for winning his 1,000th game on Saturday: Piniella was batting sixth and playing leftfield for the Royals when McKeon won his first April 7, 1973, over the Angels. (Two other future managers, Hal McRae and Cookie Rojas , were in the Royals lineup that day.)
"I didn't have a particularly good year for Jack," said Piniella, who hit .250 that season. "I held out that spring and missed most of spring training, and it cost me. I don't think Jack was totally enthralled with my performance. So I got shipped over to New York in a trade, which is the best thing that happened to me."
MISCELLANY: Aubrey Huff is expected to rejoin the team tonight after missing Sunday's game to fly home for personal reasons. ... Pitcher Dewon Brazelton and infielder/catcher Eric Munson have been called up from Triple A. ... The Rays need to win five of their last 12 road games to match the franchise low of 25 road wins set in 2001 and '02. ... Scott Kazmir is fourth in the AL with 149 strikeouts and 8.3 per nine innings. ... Top draft pick Wade Townsend had his best pro outing Sunday, pitching six two-hit, shutout innings and striking out seven for short-season Hudson Valley.