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Hot hand belongs to Halladay
JAYS 8, RAYS 1: The Toronto ace keeps the Rays bats cool with a dominating performance.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 14, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - As poorly as the Devil Rays have been doing at the plate, it only figured that when they did get a hit off Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay on Saturday, it landed in an outfielder's glove.
Halladay was so good in Toronto's 8-1 victory that for a while it seemed a fair question if the Rays would even get a hit. They ended up with a season-low three - Gomes' fourth-inning home run off the C-ring catwalk that was caught by Vernon Wells and a later pair of Greg Norton singles - and became the first team in the majors this season to leave no men on base.
"He pitched a gem. He's got good stuff, Cy Young stuff today. Tough on lefties, tough onrighties, all strikes," Gomes said. "Halladay is tough any day of the week but especially when your bats aren't so hot as a club."
The Rays' bats aren't even Tropicana Field's air-conditioned 72 degrees.
Manager Joe Maddon insists they are going to come out of it - "We're going to hit, we're going to hit well and we're going to score a lot of runs," he said, again - but recent indicators are troubling.
They are batting .200 over their last 23 games, dropping their overall average to a major-league-worst .232. They've gone 13 games without scoring more than five runs, their longest such streak in nearly five years and their third longest ever. They have two regulars hitting under .200 - Aubrey Huff at .140 and Joey Gathright at .188 - and another just above, with Travis Lee at .204.
And having Halladay 60 feet, 6 inches away didn't help.
The tall right-hander recorded 16 ground-ball outs, allowed the Rays to hit only five balls out of the infield and needed only 88 pitches for a second straight complete game.
"He just pounds the bottom of the strike zone," Maddon said. "Just pounds it. He doesn't abuse his breaking ball. He puts the ball in very difficult places to dig it out. He just throws strikes at the bottom of the zone. He's incredible with that."
As if Halladay needed an advantage, he got it when the Jays took a 4-0 lead in a sloppy second inning by starter Mark Hendrickson.
"I was more aggressive today because of the lead," said Halladay, who improved to 5-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.85, fourth best in the AL. "I'm starting to feel more consistent and throw the ball where I want to."
Hendrickson wasn't able to do the same. Though Maddon said he thought the lanky left-hander was as sharp physically as he had been all season, it was a two-out walk to No. 9 hitter John McDonald that led to the big second inning.
"Self-inflicted," Hendrickson said after his 100th career start.
The Jays started with a leadoff walk, a single off Hendrickson's left wrist and another single, but Hendrickson was on the verge of escaping after a pair of strikeouts. Instead, he walked McDonald to load the bases, hit Reed Johnson (who has been hit a major-league-high eight times) to force in a run and gave up a two-run single to Alex Rios.
"I thought the tipping point was the walk to McDonald," Maddon said. "If he had been able to get him out right there that game would have been different I think. But it wasn't."
Friday, Gomes hit a ball that struck and got stuck in the higher B-ring catwalk and turned into an out when McDonald caught it. Saturday was almost the same scene, except Gomes hit the C-ring catwalk, which makes it a homer - his 13th - even though Wells caught it.
"I knew it hit the right one," Gomes said, "then I saw Vernon catch it and I was just like: "No way. No way.' "
The Rays were the first team to not leave a runner on since Aug. 11 in a 4-2 loss at Baltimore, matching an inauspicious team mark.
"I guess that's all you can do is tie it," Maddon said. "You can't leave less than zero on, can you?"
The way things are going offensively, who's to say.