tampabay.com

Finally a payoff on tough trip

By MARC TOPKIN
Published September 1, 2006


CHICAGO - As frustrating as it was to lose 12 straight road games, manager Joe Maddon insisted he could see good things. And Thursday, when the Devil Rays snapped that streak, he insisted he wasn't seeing things.

"Out of those 12, we were in every friggin' game," Maddon said. "It's wonderful to win the game, but I just like the way we stayed after it. That eventually is going to be the biggest lesson learned from the whole thing."

There was a payoff Thursday because the Rays certainly appeared at times to be heading toward a franchise-record-tying 13th straight loss.

A couple of bobbles by second baseman Jorge Cantu and a bad decision by Dioner Navarro not to tag up on a fly to left looked exactly like the kinds of mistakes that were going to catch up to the Rays later in the game.

But after A.J. Pierzynski's two-run homer in the sixth put the Sox ahead 3-2, the Rays didn't give up. The bullpen came out and did its job (retiring 13 of 14 batters), the defense made some key plays and the batters got some clutch hits, including Cantu's two-run single in the 10th that provided the difference.

"A lot of little things happened today where we did not make the mistakes that we had been making," Maddon said.

For the players - who had lost 22 of their past 23 road games - it was an unusual experience to board a plane for home in high spirits.

"It feels really good," Cantu said.

GETTING WIGGY: Heavy rains in the Durham, N.C., area washed out Ty Wigginton's plans to spend Thursday giving his previously fractured left hand a final test by playing both ends of a Triple-A doubleheader.

But he is expected to rejoin the Rays for tonight's game and resume his super utility role of playing almost every day while rotating among several positions.

Wigginton, who still ranks second on the team with 18 homers and third with 57 RBIs despite being out a month, has been missed as much for his presence as for offensive contributions.

"I think within our group, he's one of those kinds of people," Maddon said. "I think Wiggy's enthusiasm for the game and for life in general will be nice to have back on a daily basis, as well as his bat."

DESIGNATED REST: Maddon used Carl Crawford as the DH and said he will do so more often during the final month "to get Carl off his feet a little bit."

Crawford, who went 0-for-5 and is 4-for-32 in his career at DH, said he was surprised when Maddon told him Wednesday and "it would be nice to get one on the turf" at Tropicana Field.

Maddon said he may use Delmon Young occasionally in centerfield to rest Rocco Baldelli.

PITCHING IN: The Rays won't know if left-hander Casey Fossum can start Sunday until he is examined today by orthopedic physician Koco Eaton.

If Fossum, who has shoulder soreness and other troubles, can't go, the Rays likely will have to call up a starter from the minors, with Chris Seddon and Brian Stokes among the possibilities and 2004 top draft pick Jeff Niemann likely not.

MINOR MATTERS: Double-A Montgomery went into play Thursday night with a three-game lead and a magic number of two to clinch a Southern League playoff berth. . . . Class A Visalia first baseman Chris Nowak leads all minor-leaguers with 45 doubles, fourth most in Rays minor-league history, and outfielder Fernando Perez leads with 188 runs. . . . Triple-A Durham reliever Jeff Ridgway has pitched 22/3 scoreless innings as Team USA advanced to second-round play in the Olympic qualifying tournament in Havana. . . . Rookie-level Princeton (W.Va.) finished its Appalachian League season 28-37.

MISCELLANY: Travis Lee was 0-for-9 with the bases loaded before his fourth-inning single. . . . Greg Norton started in leftfield and picked up his first assist when Ben Zobrist made a perfect relay to the plate to nail former USF standout Ross Gload in the second. "I love Zobi," Norton said. . . . Zobrist has a nine-game hitting streak. . . . Pierzynski's blast made the Sox the first team in history to hit 200 homers in seven straight seasons. . . . Baldelli was not in the starting lineup but had to be used as a defensive replacement because Crawford was DH. . . . Tonight is the annual Girl Scout sleepover at the Trop. The first 15,000 fans on Saturday get a Dewayne Staats and Joe Magrane talking bobblehead.