tampabay.com

Rays have little time to end road agony

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published September 26, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - With six games left in the season, Rays manager Joe Maddon sees one more challenge left: success on the road.

Six games, two in Boston and four in Cleveland, finish Tampa Bay's season, with the Rays a moribund 19-56 away from Tropicana Field (including 2-26 since the All-Star break).

"It's just a matter of time," Maddon said. "It's frustrating. It's aggravating. It's annoying. It's all of those '-ings.' At some point it's going to tip in our favor. We just need to keep going after it and keep believing in what we're doing, because we see. We see what we can do here. Let's just take it there. And there's no reason why we can not."

Both Boston (45-31) and Cleveland (38-36) are above .500 at home, but Maddon believes the Rays' road woes could end this week.

"I would like to see it, just as much as anything, so they feel it," Maddon said. "I want to talk about it. I don't want to sweep it under the rug. I don't want to put it in their back pocket. I don't want to walk away from it. We have to get better at it. What it's going to take is getting better late-inning performances. That's what it comes down to."

CRAWFORD IS TEAM MVP: Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford was named the team MVP by the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Crawford was the unanimous MVP selection by the voting members.

"It wasn't a disappointing year, but I definitely wouldn't call it my best season," Crawford said. "On paper it looks like it, but for me, I think I could have done a couple things a little better."

Crawford leads the AL with 15 triples and 56 stolen bases. If he maintains his current batting average of .303, he will improve his average, home run (18) and RBI (76) totals in each of his first four seasons.

In the beginning of the season, Crawford played through pain in his left wrist, a nagging injury from the end of the 2005 season. He said Monday he wouldn't have offseason surgery, he'd just take a month off from swinging to allow the tendinitis to subside then get ready for next season.

"It makes you feel better about going to work hard in the offseason," Crawford said of the award.

SHIELDS TOP ROOKIE: Right-hander James Shields was awarded rookie of the year. Shields, 6-8 with a 4.84 ERA, emerged from a talent-laden rotation at Triple-A Durham to become the biggest contributor to the Rays rotation.

"There are going to be some guys who are more looked at than other guys," Shields said. "When it comes down to it, performance on the field and improvement is where it's at. I brought everything from last season into this season."

Shields' inning total of 186 was his most in professional baseball. The team shut him down after his last start Friday. His previous high was 1432/3 innings in Class A in 2003, a year after missing the entire season from shoulder surgery.

The Rays hope to increase his innings total by 20 to 30 each season.

HAMMEL LOOKING TO IMPROVE: Rookie right-hander Jason Hammel has two starts remaining this season, tonight in Boston and the season finale Sunday in Cleveland.

"The golden rule is finish strong," Hammel said. "Even if you struggle there's always an up. You can build on it and learn from your mistakes."

Hitters are batting .263 against Hammel in the first three innings but .373 in innings four through six. In his most recent start a week ago, he retired eight of his first nine but fell victim to a four-run fifth inning in the 5-4 loss to Baltimore.

ATTENDANCE UP: With an announced attendance Monday night of 24,053, the Rays finished the season with a home attendance of 1,372,193, their highest in six years. Tampa Bay drew 1,549,412 in 2000. It is a 20.2 percent increase over last season.

Also, this four-game series drew 115,304, marking the 11th series of 100,000 or more at the Trop, just the third since 1998 and the first since July 16-18, 2000, when the Rays drew 100,958 in a three-game set against Atlanta.

MISCELLANY: Jorge Cantu missed his fourth straight game with a low-grade fever Monday. ... Jaret Wright ran his record to 7-1 vs. Tampa Bay. ... A raffle to give away the three plastic foam cup player portraits - of ex-Rays Julio Lugo, Toby Hall and Mark Hendrickson - that Rocco Baldelli etched when he was injured raised $1,100 for the St. Petersburg Arts Center. ... Melky Cabrera was the only Yankee to play the entire game Monday. ... The 16 runs and 20 hits allowed tied team highs.