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Another game, another 11

Porous pitching (33 runs in three games) continues to plague the Rays in an 11-4 loss to Boston.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 7, 2001


BOSTON -- Opening night seems like a long time ago.

The Rays lost 11-4 to the Red Sox on Friday, marking their third straight defeat and dropping their record to 1-3, the worst start in the team's short history.

Worse, they're not just losing, but losing badly, as badly as they ever have. Since starting the season with an 8-1 win over Toronto, they've given up 11 runs in three consecutive games for the first time in their three-plus seasons. They've allowed eight home runs in the three games, made seven errors and scored just 12 runs.

Wednesday, Ken Hill, after giving up three home runs in a 10-batter span, accused Toronto's Tony Batista of using a corked bat. Thursday, Greg Vaughn popped off, questioning the Rays' attitude and approach. Friday, Gerald Williams was benched for undisclosed disciplinary reasons.

"You can say it's not going our way," Vaughn said.

It was dreary, wet and 49 degrees Friday, but it was still opening day at Fenway Park, so it was still special.

The Rays started like they were going to spoil the party for 33,525 Red Sox faithful, scoring three runs in the first.

But the good feelings didn't last. Only about as long as it took Ryan Rupe to walk leadoff man Trot Nixon. Jose Offerman followed with a single through the infield and Carl Everett struck out.

Then Manny Ramirez made the kind of debut you usually only see in the movies.

Given a standing ovation before he stepped to the plate for the first time at Fenway in Boston's home whites, the Sox's $160-million man crushed the first pitch he saw high into the screen above the leftfield wall for a tying home run.

"I'm trying not to look at it like it's a big deal," Ramirez said. "It's my home now, and everyone here is my friend."

Rupe said he had a plan for Ramirez, but just didn't execute it.

"I tried to go inside with a fastball, but I got it over the plate and he hit it pretty damn hard," Rupe said.

Manager Larry Rothschild said the problem started when Rupe walked Nixon.

"Right now it looks like it wasn't much, but that's a big play in that game," he said. "You set the tone and come out and get three, you've got to go right after them. Walking that leadoff hitter is not the way to do it."

The Sox, who played a night game in Baltimore Thursday, broke the game open quickly after that. They got three runs in the third, highlighted by a pair of wall-banging doubles, and two more in the fourth on home runs by Mike Lansing and Carl Everett, who has five in his last 10 games against the Rays.

The Rays had basically one shot to get back in. Down 8-3 in the fifth, Steve Cox was robbed of a two-run home run when Nixon leapt at the rightfield fence.

Rupe didn't do much right in his 32/3 innings, giving up eight hits and two walks and needing 86 pitches to get 11 outs. That after a spring in which he was 1-1 with a 6.27 ERA and allowed 30 baserunners in 182/3 innings.

"He needs to start throwing the ball well," Rothschild said. "It's a combination of a lot of things. It doesn't just happen for one reason. We need to get him back on track."

Rupe, who struggled much of last season, made some slight mechanical changes early in spring training but is still having problems, specifically with the consistency of his changeup.

"All in all it was a horrible outing," Rupe said. "I feel good. The results aren't near what I want. Even if I think the pitch looks good, they're right on it. I don't know if I'm not mixing up my pitches well enough, but they were right on everything I threw. Even the foul balls were straight back."

Rookie Travis Harper's start tonight will complete one turn through the rotation, and the pitching thus far has not been very impressive. The Rays only gave up 11 or more runs in a game eight times last season.

"We've got to get our guys to get their feet underneath them," catcher John Flaherty said. "We need to get them to relax and calm down and go from there. Right now there's a lot of guys not in their comfort zone."

Despite the early returns, Vaughn, sitting alone at his locker, tried to be optimistic.

"It's just rough right now for some reason," he said. "It can get better in a hurry, too. Come out tomorrow and things can change."

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