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McClung on top of his game

RAYS 1, INDIANS 0: His brilliant outing deals Cleveland's hopes a blow.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published September 29, 2005


CLEVELAND - Seth McClung usually has a lot to say. But even the loquacious right-hander admits his season could best be described by a single word: inconsistent.

There have been times - too many times - when he has pitched very poorly. There have been times - not enough times - when he has pitched very well.

And there was Wednesday night, when he was absolutely dazzling, pitching eight shutout innings as the Devil Rays further damaged the Indians' postseason aspirations with a 1-0 win.

"That," manager Lou Piniella said, "is as good a ballgame as we've had pitched all year. We've had some good ones. But that one there, 1-0 against a good-hitting team, in this type of situation for a young pitcher, yeah."

For the Indians, it was not a good situation. With the White Sox winning, they fell three back in the AL Central and could be eliminated tonight. They did remain tied for the wild-card lead with the Red Sox, who lost again to Toronto.

For the Rays, it couldn't have been much better. They continued their command performance in the role of spoilers, beating the Indians for the sixth time in nine games and fifth straight at Jacobs Field, which had another uninspiring crowd of 24,356. Against the final six contenders for AL playoff spots, the Rays are 35-36.

The Indians have more to play for, but the Rays again played better.

The game was 0-0 until the eighth, when the Rays scored the only run with near-perfect execution. Toby Hall led off with a double, Damon Hollins bunted pinch-runner Joey Gathright to third and Julio Lugo scored him with a sacrifice fly to center. Plus, Jonny Gomes made a spectacular diving catch in leftfield and Eduardo Perez made a pair of nice plays at first base. And Danys Baez worked the ninth for his 41st save.

"It was just a good all-around game for us," Hall said.

McClung's performance was important so he could finish on a good note despite a 7-11 record and 6.59 ERA, and so that the Rays decision-makers - whoever they may be - could be reminded of what he is capable of.

The 24-year-old, pitching with three extra days' rest, was sharp. He was aggressive. He mixed his pitches. He changed speeds. His curveball was working well and his changeup was better.

"Awesome," Hall said. "He threw everything for strikes. He had command of every pitch he threw tonight."

"He looked like Cy Young to me," shortstop Julio Lugo said.

But more important, he looked like he knew what he was doing.

"Confidence is a big thing with him," Hall said. "When he has that confidence, he's overpowering."

McClung said he wants to take that approach to the mound all the time.

"If you could sum up my year with one word, it's inconsistent," he said. "I'm not inconsistent. I'm not that guy. I wanted to be more of what type of pitcher that I can be, and it's taken all year to figure it out.

"When I pitch well it's because I'm confident and I just go right after guys. I don't really mess around too much with what's going on. I just do it."

The inconsistency, Piniella said, is typical of young pitchers.

"When you expect really good things, you tend to get a little disappointed," he said. "And when you say, "All right, let's see what he can do,' then you get the promise."

McClung said he is maturing, that he has had some physical problems, including one that will require postseason nasal surgery, and that he has struggled with the right mental approach.

"This year has been so tough for me," he said. "With everything going on I put too much in my mind. I worry too much about this, that and the other thing, instead of putting enough confidence in my own ability."

As he showed Wednesday, that can be plenty good enough.