tampabay.com

Rookie toughs it out

By TOM JONES
Published September 4, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Not bad.

That was the consensus on Devil Rays pitcher Brian Stokes' major-league debut Sunday. The 26-year-old right-hander pitched four innings, allowing two runs on seven hits with three walks and a strikeout.

Not bad considering Stokes admitted he had a serious case of nerves.

"Yeah, I had some jitters," Stokes said. "I was nervous at the start, but I loosened up at the end, and I felt good."

Stokes was in and out of trouble for all four innings he pitched, but he did manage to wriggle out of a couple of jams. Having pitched relief in Durham for the past three weeks, Stokes was kept on a pitch count and left after throwing 74 and with the score tied at 2.

"I thought Stokes threw the ball really well," manager Joe Maddon said. "Physically, he has got a good arm. And we just have to do some things to enhance his command, and there are some issues within his delivery that we can help him with. But I really like what he did."

CENTER OF ATTENTION: Rays rookie Delmon Young had another first in the big leagues Sunday. He started in centerfield.

"I want to see him (there) and allow him to feel comfortable so if we do need him to do that, there's that comfort zone," Maddon said.

Mostly, however, it was to give Rocco Baldelli the day off after a night game. Carl Crawford was the DH, so Young moved from right to center. Ty Wigginton played left, and Greg Norton played right.

Maddon said he wanted to rest Baldelli and give Crawford an easy day before Minnesota and Oakland, two teams in the pennant race, come to town. Maddon will use his regular lineup this week.

"I wanted to get that done (Sunday) and move on," Maddon said. "That way we can play who we want against Minnesota and Oakland. I'm very cognizant of that.

"Being part of the race the last couple of years, you appreciate when a team does the right thing when playing against a team that's vying for the same postseason spot. It's important to do that."

THE SMELL OF POSTSEASON: Maddon said that he welcomes playing teams in the pennant race and that his team could learn a thing or two.

"You can learn that it's fun to be in the race," he said. "All these games matter. This is the best time of the year to play ball. When you're outside, there's a playoff odor about it. It's good stuff. It's not football weather, it's playoff weather.

"That's what I want guys to understand: that playoff smell, the scent, the sun dipping a little bit lower in the sky, it getting darker earlier. It matters. It means something. We've got to get there."

MORE ON THE TRIPLE PLAY: Saturday's triple play, indeed, was unique. The triple play was turned on a strikeout, then two runners being cut down trying to steal second, then home. We already knew, courtesy of the Society for American Baseball Research, that it was the first to involve the scoring order of 2-6-2 (catcher-shortstop-catcher).

But there's more. According to SABR, of the 663 previous triple plays in major-league history, it was only the second that started with a strikeout and involved only two fielders. The other was a triple play that went 2-3-2 (catcher-first baseman-catcher) and was turned by the Chicago White Stockings against the Cleveland Blues on May 20, 1880.

MISCELLANY: Maddon on the Rays facing Twins starter Boof Bonser, a St. Petersburg native: "I have to find out about him. I know nothing about him other than he has the coolest name in baseball." ... The Rays won a home series against Seattle for the first time since Sept. 2-4, 2003. ... Ten of the Rays' 12 runs in the series came via homers, including all seven Sunday. ... The Mariners stranded a season-high 14 baserunners.