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Weather, Red Sox shut down Rays

Boston rookie Paxton Crawford befuddles Tampa Bay in a 6-2 victory as the game-time temperature registers 42 degrees.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001


photo
[AP photo]
Tampa Bay Devil Rays' Damian Rolls warms up on the field before Saturday's game. Temperatures were in the low 40s with a light wind.
BOSTON -- The chill tore through them. Ben Grieve's hands were numb at times. Vinny Castilla wore a ski mask to soothe his burning ears. Players on the bench jockeyed for seats near the only heater.

But as cold as it was Saturday night -- and with the temperature 42 degrees at game time and going down it was cold -- the Rays said the weather was the least of their problems.

They gave away outs, increasing their major-league leading total to nine errors. They pitched tentatively, giving up 14 hits and walking three. They looked rather, um, frozen at the plate, going hitless over the final 62/3 innings as the Red Sox retired 16 straight and 19 of the final 20.

And they lost, 6-2 to Boston, extending their worst-ever start to 1-4.

"The bottom line," catcher John Flaherty said, "is that every inning's tough."

About the best thing you could say after the game -- aside from the fact that it was warm in the clubhouse -- was that the Rays kept the Red Sox to single digits. In their three previous losses, the Rays gave up 11 runs each time.

Saturday, Tampa Bay was in the game for a while. It led 1-0, on second-inning singles by Grieve, Castilla and Flaherty, but then rookie starter Travis Harper made the first of two mistakes, leaving a 1-and-2 pitch to Trot Nixon over the plate. Nixon responded by knocking it over the rightfield fence for a two-run home run.

The Rays came back to tie the score when Steve Cox's liner down the rightfield line tucked just inside the Pesky Pole for a 325-foot home run, but that was the last hit they would get.

Greg Vaughn struck out (for the second of three times on the night and six straight) and Fred McGriff walked, then rookie Paxton Crawford retired his final 13 batters. Rod Beck worked a 1-2-3 eighth, walked Vaughn to open the ninth and got the final three outs.

Was Crawford, a 23-year-old in his eighth big-league game, that good? Or were the Rays, troubled by Crawford's changeup all night, that bad?

"It probably was a little to do with both," Grieve said. "He was on and we weren't. When you get to eight, nine in a row, you start feeling like you're in control and you get a little more confident. He was throwing strikes, he wasn't getting behind in the count and giving us good pitches to hit, and when he did give us good pitches to hit, we weren't really taking advantage of it."

"You tip your cap to him a little bit," Flaherty said, "but we also have to make some adjustments as we go along and we probably didn't do a very good job of that. He did what he had to do. He preyed on our aggressiveness."

The Rays made it tougher on themselves, too. Cox had a rough night in Fenway's tricky leftfield and Grieve appeared to have at least a shot at catching Nixon's home run ball at the 4-foot high fence, though manager Larry Rothschild said it would have been highlight reel material if he had caught it.

"If you jump for it you'd probably land in the bullpen," Grieve said. "I didn't get back there in time to prepare myself to make a good attempt at it. I was kind of running and worrying about the wall and looking for the ball, all three at the same time, so it was kind of tough."

The Sox built the lead to 4-2 when rookie Shea Hillenbrand crushed Harper's other mistake over the screen atop the Green Monster (the 10th homer the Rays allowed in the four losses) and Manny Ramirez doubled in a run in the fifth.

When they added two more off reliever Ken Hill in the seventh, "that made it real tough," Rothschild said.

The temperature when the game started a little after 6 p.m. was 42 degrees, the lowest in team history, and with 12-18 mph winds it got worse from there. It was down to 40 degrees at 7 p.m. and 39 by 8, with a "feel's like" estimation of 26 degrees.

"Once you're playing you warm up a little bit," Cox said. "If you let it affect you, you have problems, big problems. I don't think it played that much into it. I hope it didn't anyway."

As the Rays left the ballpark to head into the frigid New England night, there was another chilling thought.

Today, they face Boston maestro Pedro Martinez.

"We better come ready," Cox said. "More ready than we were tonight."

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