By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 18, 2001
MEXICO CITY -- There were bilingual news conferences. There was a ceremony. There were dancing girls. There was loud music.
And, finally, Saturday night, there was baseball at Foro Sol Stadium.
The Rays (known here as the Mantarrayas de Tampa Bay) lost to the Pirates (Piratas de Pittsburgh) 8-6 in the first of the two-game Fiesta de Primavera series before an announced 11,828, about half capacity.
The Rays didn't pitch or play particularly well, making two errors, three wild pitches and giving away a 6-4 lead.
Bryan Rekar, unscored on in his first three outings, struggled, allowing four runs on six hits in four innings. He set up and then gave up the first run on a pair of wild pitches, and three more on a fourth-inning home run by Kevin Young that put Pittsburgh up 4-1.
"I didn't think Bryan was as sharp as he has been, a lot of balls were up," manager Larry Rothschild said. "And we could have given him more help."
Said Rekar: "Just one of those days. I felt good, and that was the big thing."
The Rays rallied with five runs in the fifth. John Flaherty opened with a double and went to third on an error, then scored on a perfectly placed bunt by Felix Martinez. Steve Cox tripled and scored the tying run when shortstop Enrique Wilson's relay throw went into the dugout.
A Ben Grieve walk and Fred McGriff double put men on second and third and brought native son Vinny Castilla to the plate and the crowd to its feet. Ritchie's wild pitch made it 5-4 and Castilla's singled in another run, but the Rays couldn't hold the lead.
Bobby Seay struggled again, giving up two runs (including a homer by Aramis Ramirez) and leaving with two men on, and Rusty Meacham gave up a two-run double to Emil Brown.
INTO THIN AIR: Having pitched in Denver during his minor-league career, Rothschild figured Mexico City's 7,000-foot elevation might be an issue. He found out for sure Saturday morning when he had to fight through his normal 35-minute run. "It definitely affected me," he said. "You just have to get used to it.
Batted balls carry further in the dry, thin air, and that was obvious during batting practice. "I just hope we brought enough balls," Rothschild said.
The altitude also makes it tough for pitchers to grip the ball, especially when throwing curves. "If you're off by just a hair it just spins and goes nowhere," Rothschild said.
WELL, IF YOU SAY SO: Trade rumors about Castilla made it to the Mexican media, but Rothschild said there was nothing to them. "We've lived with rumors all spring about Greg Vaughn going to the Dodgers and a lot of rumors and this is no different," Rothschild said. "It's people playing connect-the-dots thinking that because Vinny didn't have a good year with health that we want to trade him and that's just not the case.
"We're not going to address the rumors because there is no need to. A lot of them get started in spring training because there is a lot of press around and they really have nothing better to do than to talk about rumors."
CLINICALLY SPEAKING: Pitcher Albie Lopez, infielder Ozzie Guillen and coach Jose Cardenal gave a clinic to about 100 Mexican youths. The three were chosen because they speak Spanish, but Lopez, who grew up in Arizona, drifted into English several times. "I can't conjugate the words," he said. "When I'm saying something in the present tense it comes out in the past tense."
RAYS BITS: Paul Wilson, Juan Guzman and Matt White will pitch for Triple-A Durham on Monday's off day in a 1 p.m. game against Columbus at the Yankees' minor-league complex in Tampa. It will be Guzman's first action since April. . . . Pitcher Sean Bergman, released Thursday, signed with the Rockies Triple-A team. . . . The Rays were the home team and used the designated hitter. Today, they are the visitors and there is no DH.