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A blast (from past)

Vinny Castilla sets a Trop record with a 478-foot HR but Rays return to losing ways.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 5, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Vinny Castilla hits a 478-foot home run, a Tropicana Field record, in the third inning.
ST. PETERSBURG -- The home run by Tampa Bay's Vinny Castilla, a 478-blast that is the longest in the history of Tropicana Field, is the one that had everyone buzzing during the Blue Jays' 11-8 win Wednesday night.

The three-homer performance by Toronto's Carlos Delgado, the third triple-homer game of his dazzling career, is what people will remember.

But it was the home run by Tony Batista -- the one he hit 407 feet over the centerfield wall despite breaking his bat at the handle -- that had a few curious pitchers in the Tampa Bay clubhouse talking, and one accusing him of foul play.

"The ball Batista hit, I believe his bat is corked," said Rays reliever Ken Hill, who gave up two other less-suspect homers as well. "There's no way you're going to hit a ball almost 450 feet with a broken bat. That ball all of a sudden just took off. I had to look at the bat. I've never seen that. I've given up a lot of homers, but that's the first one I've seen happen to me like that.

"I thought I made a good pitch on him. He's a good hitter. But, I mean, that ball just came off there kind of funny. It broke his bat, and that ball just kept going and going and going. I guess it happens."

Batista, who hit a career-high 26 homers in 1999 and increased to 41 last season, denied the charge.

"If he thinks that, he should check it out. I don't know what I can say," Batista said. "I don't use cork yet. Maybe one of these days I can start using it."

Added Delgado: "It's (Hill's) opinion, you know what I mean? If he has a problem, he should send someone to get an X-ray."

Batista's home run wasn't the only thing the Rays had to be concerned about. They knew there was a chance their rebuilt relief crew was going to struggle, and it happened in full view of the announced 15,172 fans, a drop-off of 63 percent from Tuesday's opener.

The Rays led 5-3 after five innings behind good-but-not-great pitching by starter Paul Wilson, a two-run single by John Flaherty and Castilla's mammoth three-run homer.

But the bullpen couldn't hold that lead, as Tanyon Sturtze gave up a pair of doubles and Doug Creek allowed a home run to Delgado on an 0-and-2 pitch in the seventh.

Nor could the relievers protect an 8-7 edge the next inning, as Hill gave up the controversial homer to Batista on the second pitch of the eighth.

Nor could they maintain an 8-8 tie in the ninth, as Hill gave up a two-run homer to Raul Mondesi and another shot to Delgado.

"Obviously it wasn't as good as you'd like to see it," Rays manager Larry Rothschild said. "It was the first time out for some of these guys and you just have to give them a chance to get their feet on the ground."

"I don't think that has anything to do with it," Hill said. "We just didn't get it done."

Sturtze faced eight batters, giving up three doubles and hitting one batter. Creek faced two batters and gave up a home run. Hill faced 10, giving up three homers and walking one.

Rothschild, not that he has much choice, is of the opinion that they are not as bad as they showed.

"Some of them are going to settle in and pitch better for us," he said. "Who that's going to be, we'll see. That's the only way you can approach it, and that's the way I feel."

Despite the loss, the Rays were feeling good about the performance of Castilla, who, coming off his worst season, is 5-for-9 in the first two games with three doubles and one amazing home run.

Coming to the plate with two on after an error by Homer Bush extended the Rays' third inning, Castilla turned on Joey Hamilton's first pitch and simply crushed it, ending his career-long 172 at-bat homerless streak.

The ball glanced off the D-ring catwalk and became the first ball to reach the Beach seating area, which starts about 50 feet above and beyond the leftfield field. Jose Canseco had come the closest, with a May 14 shot that struck the front facade.

"I knew I hit it pretty good," Castilla said. "I didn't see where it landed because as soon as I hit it, I knew it was gone."

Long gone.

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