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Lou's pride in revival pours out
RAYS 8, ANGELS 4: Piniella, in his final week here, tears up at news that his young team has guaranteed a .500 second half.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published September 26, 2005
ANAHEIM, Calif. - There would be plenty of reasons to think Lou Piniella no longer cares about the Devil Rays. He wanted out so badly he gave up millions to get out of the last year of his contract, and he has less than a week until he can walk away.
But sitting in his office after Sunday's game, it was startlingly obvious how much he did still care.
Piniella was answering the typical questions about the 8-4 win over the Angels, talking about Mark Hendrickson's career-high 11th victory and team-record seven straight, when a reporter mentioned that the Rays, at 37-30 with six games left, had clinched a winning record for the second half of the season.
As Piniella detailed how far they had come from their 28-61 first half, and how much hard work and effort the players put in to get there, he began to cry.
His voice cracked.
His eyes reddened.
"I got a little emotional, I'm sorry," he said. "I just got a little emotional when he said we played over .500. It feels good. I hope we win a couple more. It's (an accomplishment). I think everybody wrote us off pretty good."
Bench coach John McLaren, Piniella's longtime associate, said he was not surprised that side of Piniella came out at this time.
"Anyone who knows Lou knows he's a very passionate person, and a lot of people think it's just about winning," McLaren said. "But he cares about his players. He's basically a very sentimental person."
Their improvement in winning percentage - from .315 before the All-Star break to .552 after - would rank as the fourth best in history. It was clear how much it meant to Piniella.
But even with a 37-30 mark that gave them their first winning second half in team history, it's going to be hard for them to get anywhere.
At 65-91 overall, the Rays have to win their final six games to break the team record of 70 victories and keep alive their slim chance of not finishing last.
They moved a step closer Sunday because of a solid offensive effort against Angels ace Bartolo Colon, beating him for the first time in 13 tries, and a solid eight-inning outing by Hendrickson, who continued an unbeaten streak that dates back more than two months.
"To me he's pitching with a lot more confidence. You can see it out there," Piniella said. "But that's what winning does for you."
Hendrickson, 11-7 on a team 26 games under .500, didn't disagree, saying the biggest difference was a change in his mental preparation. After the left-hander had two poor July outings, Piniella publicly said his rotation spot was in jeopardy. Hendrickson responded, changing his approach and obviously the results.
"So many times you get up here and you're working at your physical craft and don't realize what separates guys up here is the mental part," Hendrickson said. "So for me, I've taken that and, I won't say I've mastered the craft, but I like the direction I'm headed in. And I'll keep working at it."
He did his part Sunday and got help as the 3-4-5 hitters, Jorge Cantu, Aubrey Huff and Jonny Gomes, homered and the Rays rapped 13 hits overall.
"It's a shame Lou's leaving or whatever the situation is," Cantu said. "If he sticks around, we'd be great. But if not, this team is going to stick together no matter what."