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Retro Rays rock the Trop

RAYS 3, BRAVES 2: Jorge Cantu's nifty stop at second prevents the tying run from scoring in the eighth.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published June 25, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - The 1975-style Tampa Tarpons uniforms gave the Devil Rays a retro look. Then they went out Saturday night and gave an old-school effort.

The Rays played hard, they got dirty and they had fun, earning a 3-2 victory over the Braves before a rocking Tropicana Field crowd of 26,686.

Rocco Baldelli, continuing his impressive comeback, doubled and scored one run, then tripled in another as the Rays again racked up double digits in hits. After five solid innings from spot starter Tim Corcoran, the bullpen did the rest with Chad Harville battling for the final five outs. Second baseman Jorge Cantu made the most stunning of several standout defensive plays, a diving stop and toss to keep the tying run from scoring in the eighth.

"God bless them, that's what we're looking for," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That's what we want to be all about. That's the kind of game I envision us playing often. That's what we want to do - those kind of at-bats, that kind of defense, that kind of intensity, the pitchers battling through situations. The dugout was alive. There were so many good things happening out there today. There really were."

The Rays (33-42) have won six of their last eight, are 4-1 on the homestand that wraps up today and are 9-2 in interleague play with seven games remaining.

One key has been the offense, which has been working in overdrive since the early June return of Baldelli (who is hitting .368 with 10 extra-base hits in 15 games) and Cantu from the disabled list and the recent resurgence of Aubrey Huff. After getting 10 or more hits only 13 times in their first 60 games, the Rays have done it 11 times in their past 15.

Another has been the pitching. Saturday it was Corcoran, who pitched so poorly during the spring he was taken off the 40-man roster, earning his first major-league win. And Harville, who also started the season in the minors, picking up his second big-league save, freezing Brian McCann with a two-seam fastball to diffuse a threat in the eighth, then coming back for a 1-2-3 ninth.

"We've been battling down there the last couple weeks," Harville said. "We've picked each other up."

But equally important has been their hustle, and that was evident Saturday by the dirt stains on their red-and-white uniforms.

Carl Crawford made a heads-up play to throw out a runner in the fourth and a leaping catch at the wall in the ninth, and Huff and replacement Tomas Perez made nifty plays at third.

But it was Cantu's spectacular dive to his right to snare Jeff Francoeur's hard grounder (with an assist to coach Tom Foley for shifting him toward the middle) and the ensuing underhand toss to Julio Lugo at second for the inning-ending and rally-killing force out that saved not only the tying run in the eighth, but also the night.

"I was just trying to stop it and prevent that run from scoring," Cantu said. "In that situation you have to get dirty and make a big effort."

"I still can't believe it," Francoeur said. "You figure when you hit it that hard up the middle right between the pitcher's legs, you don't figure there's a shot to get there. It was unbelievable. Hats off to Jorge."

Maddon was most pleased with the effort and the result, but he got a kick out of the whole night. In addition to the throwback uniforms, with the Braves sporting their blue mid-'70s jerseys, Tropicana Field ushers and fans wore costumes and the stadium soundtrack had a decidedly '70s beat.

But the highlight had to be the series of hilarious videoboard images of the players in '70s hair and clothes - including Jonny Gomes as Roger Daltrey, Toby Hall as Greg Allman, Huff as Barry Manilow, Russell Branyan as David Soul and a few others - by entertainment director John Franzone and his staff that defied description.

"I loved it," Maddon said. "I was laughing so hard I was crying."

For the Rays, it was that kind of night.