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Here's a change of pace: Things go right for Rays

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published June 15, 2006

DETROIT - Okay, so maybe it wasn't exactly the way the Devil Rays planned it.

But Mark Hendrickson gave them the start they needed, Jorge Cantu delivered the hit they needed, Brian Meadows and Tim Corcoran got the outs they needed.

And the Rays got a win they badly needed, 5-1 in a wild 12 innings over the best-in-baseball Tigers.

The Rays got a masterful performance from Hendrickson, even though he lost a 1-0 lead in the ninth on an unearned run. They moved Cantu into the cleanup spot and, after going hitless in five at-bats, including a bases-loaded chance in the 10th, he delivered the game's biggest hit in the 12th, a bases-clearing three-run double. They settled - for lack of a better option - on Meadows to replace injured closer Tyler Walker, and he pitched two near-perfect innings for the win. And Corcoran, who was promoted from Triple A and went from the airport to the bullpen, got the final three outs.

"That was a great win," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "All wins are good, but that one showed grit on our part. We finally finished something off. And that's a good thing, against a good ballclub."

When the Rays lost the 1-0 lead in the ninth, the major-league high-matching 40th lead they've blown, there was every reason to think the game would be lost, too.

But singles by Toby Hall and Travis Lee off Tigers closer Todd Jones got them started and, after an unsuccessful sacrifice and a popout, they loaded the bases for Cantu when new No. 3 hitter Rocco Baldelli was hit on the left hand by pitch.

Cantu, who flied to the warning track to end the 10th, ripped Jones' cut fastball to right-center, and Damon Hollins doubled in an insurance run.

"The second time was the charm," Cantu said. "One at-bat is all it takes. One at-bat can change the whole game."

Maddon decided to drop Cantu from third to fourth in order to have Baldelli, who is hitting .346 since returning from the disabled list, join Julio Lugo and Carl Crawford in front of Cantu.

"I like the idea of him getting people on base in front of him," Maddon said. "As he gets more at-bats I really believe what he did last year RBI-wise (a team-record 117) was not a fluke, and it's truly what he's capable of doing."

With Walker's elbow injury further depleting their battered bullpen, the Rays got a spectacular effort from Hendrickson: three hits over nine innings, one unearned run, a career-best eight strikeouts on a career-high 123 pitches.

Hendrickson was simply magnificent, allowing a single to leadoff man Curtis Granderson and not giving up another hit until the ninth, a span of 28 batters, as he dueled Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman. From the second through the eighth only two Tigers reached base, one on a walk, one on a wild-pitch third strike.

"He was very impressive," Maddon said. "He went out there with a purpose, and he did exactly what he set out to do."

Hendrickson had thrown 108 pitches through eight innings but wanted to throw more, and with no better option in the bullpen to protect the 1-0 lead, Maddon sent him out for the ninth.

Ivan Rodriguez - who routinely torments the Rays, with a .373 career average against them - started the Tigers' rally by beating out an infield dribbler and showboating as he crossed first by holding his hands out at his sides.

Tomas Perez, who came in as a defensive replacement for Aubrey Huff, made a costly one-out error, misplaying a hard bouncer by Carlos Guillen, and with two outs, Hendrickson gave up a single to red-hot Marcus Thomas that scored the tying run.

"I put some work in mentally to disregard the latest couple outings and find ways to improve," Hendrickson said. "Today I was really in the moment pitch-by-pitch."

Maddon thought Meadows was pitching well enough to handle some late-inning opportunities, though with Walker out for at least two weeks, he may be forced to handle most of them. He struggled Friday in Kansas City, but he came through Wednesday, getting through the top six hitters in the powerful Detroit lineup allowing only a single.

Meadows said he was most proud of the way the team didn't quit when the lead got away. Maddon was pretty happy with the effort, too.

"The mood in the dugout was great," he said. "I really felt as though our guys believed we could do that tonight, and that's how you turn the corner when you win games like that. So it was nice."

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