Flaherty doubles in the winner to end a seven-game skid.
By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 12, 2001
TORONTO -- There were smiles, handshakes and high-fives. And then, right there near the first-base line, Fred McGriff hugging John Flaherty.
" 'Flash' got the big hit," McGriff said. "And we needed a win bad."
The Rays (2-7) had reason to celebrate, snapping a seven-game losing streak in impressive fashion, rallying to beat Toronto 4-3 and earn their first victory since opening night.
"We needed a night like tonight," Flaherty said. "We needed to feel good about ourselves. We needed to get on this plane and have this day off feeling good. It's been tough. It's been a lot of hard work. We've got to find a way to get some momentum, to get some confidence, whatever it takes. Hopefully tonight will get that rolling."
For all that went wrong over the past week -- and there was plenty -- almost everything worked out Wednesday.
The Rays got down 3-0 but refused to get down and tied the score in the sixth, stringing together four straight hits for the first time this season. Jose Guillen made a running catch to end the eighth, then sparked the rally with a ninth-inning single. Flaherty delivered a clutch double for what proved to be the winning run. The bullpen was brilliant behind Ryan Rupe, with Doug Creek and Rusty Meacham working the middle innings and Esteban Yan getting the final five outs in dominating style.
Still, someone suggested to manager Larry Rothschild that it wasn't the most artistic win.
"Let me tell you something," Rothschild replied, "it's the Mona Lisa to me."
Not only had the Rays lost seven straight -- matching the third-longest streak in their short history -- but they played wretchedly in doing so. They'd been outscored 53-17, outhit 74-47 and outhomered 13-4. They hit .210, posted a 5.92 ERA and made 11 errors. When they scored in the ninth Wednesday it was the first time they had led since the second inning Saturday, a span of 44 innings.
"Honestly, this was pretty big. Pretty big for everybody," Rupe said. "The last seven games, there was a lot of pressure put on a lot of people. For us to win, I think it's a huge, huge boost. Losing tonight would have been real, real bad."
It didn't look good early, when the Jays took a 3-0 lead in the third, in part because of errors by Rupe on consecutive plays. But after getting two hits in the first five innings, the Rays got to Toronto starter Esteban Loaiza in the sixth.
Leadoff man Gerald Williams started the rally with his first walk of the season. Russ Johnson, with hits in all three games as the starting second baseman, singled to right. Greg Vaughn, who earlier snapped an 0-for-16 skid, singled to left. Fred McGriff, on an 8-for-14 tear, singled to right for the first run. Ben Grieve, in an 0-for-14 skid, then singled hard to left -- so hard that Shannon Stewart couldn't hold the ball -- allowing Johnson and Vaughn to score.
Creek and Meacham preserved the tie into the eighth, and with one out, Rothschild summoned his best reliever, Yan, to face Toronto's most dangerous hitter, Carlos Delgado.
"Normally you don't bring your closer in in a tie game, but this is not normal circumstances for me," Rothschild said. "He was the guy I wanted to face him, and if he had to go an extra inning because of it ... .I was going to shoot all my bullets tonight no matter what."
Yan struck out Delgado on a fastball at the knees ("Sick," Flaherty said), then got out of the inning when Guillen ran down Brad Fullmer's liner as he ran into the rightfield wall. Yan -- clocked as high as 98 mph -- was just as dominant in ninth, even surviving the two-out "Here-we-go-again" moment when Jose Cruz's ground ball skidded under Felix Martinez's glove. "I'm happy," Yan said. "I'm happy for everyone."
Guillen battled closer Billy Koch and singled. Then, despite a half-dozen pickoff attempts, he stole second with a jump so good there was no throw. Flaherty, "terrible" in his first three at-bats, fought to a full count and doubled to right-center. "Fortunately it was one good pitch and one good swing, and it was a big one," he said.
"To hear people laughing in the locker room is a good feeling," Rothschild said. "You've got to start somewhere, and it's going to start with one, and hopefully we can build on that. ... (Tuesday) was a good game. Today was a good game, and we won it. We need to keep going. You'll see a different club out there once we get the confidence."