tampabay.com

It happens

By MARC TOPKIN
Published October 2, 2005


This wasn't exactly what they had in mind, but the Devil Rays marketing folks sure had it right when they unveiled their theme for this season: Watch It Happen.

More happened this season than any of the Rays' seven others - and the most dramatic may be yet to come with massive changes expected soon, starting at the top.

But that doesn't diminish what has happened so far, from departures and disappearances, a dreadful first half, controversial quotes, a cruel injury, dramatic efforts, turmoil, record-setting performances, and a second-half filled with promise. Here are some of the highlights:

DID THE DEVIL MAKE THEM DO IT?

* Three players - Marty Cordova, Roberto Alomar and Danny Bautista - retired before the start of spring training, and another, Chris Singleton, did so in July after a controversy over pay when he was released and brought back.

* Three bmore took off during the season - Charles Johnson, who went on a five-day leave and was later released; Dewon Brazelton, who disappeared for three weeks rather than report to the minors but was subsequently brought back; and Rob Bell, who suffered anxiety attacks on the mound and received psychological counseling.

* Alex Sanchez, with four career homers at the time, was the first player suspended under baseball's new policy against performance enhancing drugs.

* Boston pitcher Curt Schilling blasted manager Lou Piniella on a radio show a few days after the teams brawled, Piniella blasted the Rays' new ownership for a lack of commitment to winning, and top prospect Delmon Young, who signed a $5.8-million deal as a 17-year-old, blasted the organization for being cheap.

* Managing general partner Vince Naimoli again drew embarrassing attention after throwing a Mets scout out of the Trop for using Naimoli's bathroom.

* Centerfielder Rocco Baldelli was a week from starting a minor-league rehab to complete recovery from left knee surgery when he blew out his right elbow and needed Tommy John surgery, forcing him to miss the whole season. Of lesser import, Kelly Frank, the woman who plays the mascot Raymond, broke her arm in a fall and was sidelined for two months.

HALFSIES

The Rays couldn't have been much worse in the first half - they were 28-61 record, had eight road wins, and were on pace to lose 110 games. Then manager Lou Piniella gave an inspiring speech before the first post-All-Star break game in Toronto, veteran Joe Borowski was signed to stabilize the setup role, and a revamped lineup (with Julio Lugo leading off, Carl Crawford hitting second and Jorge Cantu third) quickly began to jell. And they couldn't have been much better in the second half. A look, through Friday:

First Second

Half Half

W-L 28-61 39-32

Road W-L 8-35 19-19

Avg. .269 .280

R/PG 4.48 4.87

HR/PG .876 1.1

ERA 5.87 4.81

Sv/OP 15/31 28/38

WHEN YOU LOSE 90-PLUS TIMES YOU HAVE TO BE CREATIVE

The Rays lost 17 times when leading by three or more runs, 15 times when leading after seven innings, 10 times (in a 49-game stretch) when they took a lead into the eighth, five times when they led after eight. They lost 20 times in their opponents' final at-bat and five times on the final pitch.

REALLY BIG INNINGS

The Rays scored 10 in the first inning against Oakland on May 25, but were on the other side of some very crooked numbers, giving up 13 runs in the second inning on April 18 at Yankee Stadium and again in the eighth inning June 21 at the Stadium. That made them the first team to give up 13 or more runs in an inning twice in the same season.

But that wasn't even the most amazing thing that happened in the June 21 game. When the Rays managed to turn a 10-2 lead into a 20-11 loss, it was only the second time in baseball history a team led by eight or more and lost by nine or more. The first was May 7, 1999 at Cleveland when the Rays did the same thing.

"Lou said, "I haven't ever seen anything like this,' " longtime Rays coach Billy Hatcher said. "I said I had. He said there was no way. And I said, "I swear to God.' "

DID YOU HEAR THE ONE ....

As usual, the Rays have done a few things this season that don't happen too often. Among the more, um, interesting, the Rays:

Are on the verge of becoming the first team to go an entire season without a complete game by their pitchers, smashing the old mark of going 135 games into the season without one. They already own the overall record of 194 consecutive incomplete games from April 14, 2001, to May 19, 2002.

Began their road schedule 4-28, matching the worst start in modern history, and got to the All-Star break 8-35, worst in the AL since the 1932 Red Sox.

Were the first team in history to give up five grand slams in a 10-day span and to allow five in April.

Can become the first team to have the major-league rookie leader in home runs (outfielder Jonny Gomes) and strikeouts (pitcher Scott Kazmir) since the 1961 Angels had Ken Hunt (25 homers) and Ken McBride (180 Ks).

Were the first team to lose four straight games in which they led by at least three since the 1955 A's, the first to blow leads of at least five runs in back-to back games since the 2002 Padres, and the first to give us as many as 34 runs over a three-game series in Cincinnati since the 1898 New York Giants.

Had Dewon Brazelton run his career road record to 0-15, the longest skid since Kent Peterson lost his first 18 for the Reds from 1947-49; Travis Harper become the 25th pitcher to allow four homers in an inning; and closer Danys Baez go 16 games into the season without a save opportunity, longest since the 1988 Orioles went 22 games.

Played the first game in their eight seasons without leaving a man on base (Aug. 11 at Baltimore) and their fourth ever without striking out a batter (Sept. 23 at Anaheim).

BY THE NUMBERS

0 - Rays before Jonny Gomes on July 30 to hit three homers in a game.

3 - Homers by Eduardo Perez off Randy Johnson

5 - Consecutive years the Rays have been last in the AL in attendance.

6 - Wins at Yankee Stadium, more than in their past four seasons combined.

7 - Team-record consecutive wins by Mark Hendrickson.

21 - Consecutive scoreless innings by reliever Joe Borowski.

60 - Player moves on and off the roster by the All-Star break.

120 - Career home runs by Aubrey Huff, most in Rays history

THEY SAID IT

"I haven't forgotten how to manage." - LOU PINIELLA, during an April 17 rant

"I've never seen anything stink like this. This is bad. You can keep saying, "Keep your head up, keep your head up, good things will happen.' But good things never seem to happen around here." - AUBREY HUFF, after a June 11 loss

"It's always good to get the bully back one day, the bully that takes your lunch money every day. I think it shows how good we are." - JONNY GOMES, after a Sept. 8 win over the Yankees

"It just shows that the Yankees with their history and with their payroll and with their All-Stars, they're not bullet-proof. In between the lines there's no salaries and no world champions." - JONNY GOMES, after an Aug. 17 win over the Yankees

"The only thing I can think of is them being cheap." - DELMON YOUNG, top prospect, Sept. 12 on why the Rays didn't call him up