tampabay.com

Diverse and dynamic offense propels Rays

With contributions from nearly everyone, Tampa Bay overcomes spotty pitching to top the West-leading A's 9-6.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published September 10, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Some of the names have been changed, but this was the kind of multifaceted offense the Devil Rays expected to have most of the season: singles, balls in the gaps, runners taking extra bases and a home run for punctuation.

Saturday, they showed all of that, scoring a 9-6 victory over the AL West-leading Oakland A's.

Six Rays had two hits apiece - and all starters but Dioner Navarro had at least one - as they rapped 14 for the night. Greg Norton and Ty Wigginton drove in two runs, and five others knocked in one.

But even with all that, it wasn't easy, before a Tropicana Field crowd of 22,016.

Seth McClung again made his audition for the closer's role a tense drama, walking the first batter of the ninth and allowing a single to the second.

That brought dangerous slugger Frank Thomas to the plate as the tying run, but McClung, after a visit from pitching coach Mike Butcher, got Thomas to pop out foul of first. McClung retired Jay Payton on a fly to center then struck out Eric Chavez for his sixth save in six opportunities.

The Rays (57-85) are 4-4 with the final game of the homestand today. They improved to 38-35 at home, a stark contrast to their 19-50 road mark.

The A's took a 2-0 lead in the second on another homer by Thomas and some erratic pitching by Rays starter J.P. Howell (a double, two walks and a hit batter), but the Rays roared back with four runs in the fourth. The teams exchanged runs throughout the middle innings, but the Rays never trailed again, breaking a 5-5 tie with three in the sixth.

The decisive run was the result of a persistent rally. B.J. Upton led off with a single, went to second on Ben Zobrist's walk and scored on Rocco Baldelli's single.

The Rays loaded the bases when Delmon Young singled and scored two more, once when Carl Crawford singled to left off starter Esteban Loaiza, again when Wigginton drew a walk from former Rays reliever Chad Gaudin.

The Rays continue to have faith in Howell, who was acquired from Kansas City in a June trade for Joey Gathright, but he has yet to justify it. He couldn't get through the fifth inning Saturday, throwing 79 pitches while allowing three runs on six hits and two walks.

Loaiza had been on a tremendous roll, going 5-0 with a 1.19 ERA over his past six starts, including a tidy Aug. 13 win over the Rays in which he allowed only three hits and one run over eight innings.

He was named the American League pitcher of the month for August and looked to be in similar form Saturday, zipping through the first three innings and retiring eight straight before Zobrist singled in the third for the Rays' first hit.

But things changed suddenly in the fourth. Rookie Young, who now has 17 hits in his first 11 major-league games, singled and Crawford, showing signs of snapping out of his slump, doubled.

During Norton's at-bat, Loaiza and plate umpire Dale Scott had a brief conversation, and Scott ordered on-deck batter Wigginton to move back to the on-deck circle rather than closer to behind home plate, where he has been warming up.

The shift seemed to hurt Loaiza more than help. Norton scored Young with a sacrifice fly, and the Rays rapped three more hits to score four - a Wigginton single, a Kevin Witt single and an Upton double.

Dan Miceli, the third of four Rays relievers, ended up with the win despite allowing two runs in the sixth.

RAYS' MAGIC NUMBER: 6

To avoid losing 100 games for the first time since 2002, the Rays need six wins in their final 20 games. Here is where they stand and what they have to do:

Current record: 57-85 .401

To avoid 100: 6-14 .300

 

TODAY: RAYS VS. A'S

WHEN/WHERE: 1:15; Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg.

TV/RADIO: FSN; 1250-AM, 820-AM (Spanish).

PROBABLE PITCHERS: A's - LHP Barry Zito (15-9, 3.79); Rays - RHP Jae Seo (1-6, 4.13).

PROMOTION: Rays bat bags to the first 10,000 14 and under.

RAYS TICKETS: Available at Tropicana Field box office, Ticketmaster outlets, devilrays.com and Devil Rays Dugout store in Tampa's WestShore Plaza.

RAYS INFORMATION: (727) 825-3250.

WATCH FOR ...

SEO SO: Rays starter Jae Seo has been pitching better than his record indicates, allowing only six earned runs over his last five outings (four before spending two weeks on the DL with a groin strain) and getting four no-decisions and a loss. He has never faced the A's.