The slugger unloads after too-familiar pitching and defensive breakdowns lead to a 6-5 loss to the Orioles.
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 15, 2001
BALTIMORE -- When Saturday's game was over, there were plenty of questions for the Rays to ponder.
How could pitcher Paul Wilson let a four-run lead slip away in the fourth? How much did they hurt themselves with two walks by Rusty Meacham and an error by Fred McGriff in the pivotal fifth? How could they have performed better during a rally in the ninth?
And how could they lose a game, 6-5 to the Orioles, they seemed headed to win?
A few minutes later, in a corner of the quiet clubhouse, Greg Vaughn posed an even bigger question:
How does this keep happening?
"We as a unit have to try to play better baseball," Vaughn said. "It just seems like I see the same thing over and over again. You do it one or two times, it's, "All right, hang with them, that was a tough one, let's go.' But this is not normal. ...
"You're not supposed to lose games the way we lose games. You're supposed to get beat. We have to play smarter. We give the games away. I'm not saying it's the pitching. I'm not saying it's the hitting. It's everything. And the other part is, "Let's see what we learned today.' It's been a year and the first month and I've seen the same thing. That's what I don't understand. You're going to have to learn from that type of stuff. You can't keep doing the same thing."
When they jumped to the 4-0 lead on two-run homers by Russ Johnson and Aubrey Huff and Wilson zipped through the first three innings, the Rays seemed headed to a third straight win and another step toward respectability.
Instead they were left with a 3-8 record. And a franchise record-low .217 team batting average. And a major-league high 14 errors.
Wilson, who looked dazzling all spring, couldn't get out of the fourth. He gave up a one-out walk and four consecutive singles, accounting for two runs, then forced in another when he hit Jerry Hairston with his 85th and final pitch. The tying run scored when Meacham got Brady Anderson to ground out.
"I failed these guys today," Wilson said. "I'm supposed to go out there and hold the lead and get us to the seventh and the eighth, and I didn't do that. I allowed them to get the momentum back and they scored the four runs. I just killed us."
Manager Larry Rothschild said he thought Wilson was trying to do too much and "forced" some pitches. Wilson said it was more a matter of not executing pitches, and having potential double-play ground balls go through the infield.
"No matter how bad I think I was today, it's never as bad as knowing you let your teammates down," Wilson said. "And that's the worst feeling in the world."
It got worse when Meacham, who had one walk in 18 innings of exhibition, Triple-A and big-league play, walked the first two batters of the fifth on close calls. "I don't want to bad-mouth the umpires because it will come back to haunt me, but I'm telling you, I thought they were good pitches," Meacham said.
With the runners on first and third after a fly out, McGriff bobbled a ground ball, allowing the go-ahead run to score. Melvin Mora's double made it 6-4.
After getting just one hit from the fifth through the eighth, the Rays rallied in the ninth against 23-year-old closer Ryan Kohlmeier.
Randy Winn, battling through 10 pitches, led off with a pinch-hit home run, and Steve Cox drew a pinch-walk. Rothschild eschewed the bunt and let Gerald Williams swing away, gambling he could get pinch-runner Damian Rolls to second without giving away an out. Williams, though, struck out on a bad pitch, a slider outside the strike zone. Rolls made it to second when Johnson swung through a 2-and-1 pitch, but he got no farther. Johnson struck out on a slider away and Vaughn swung at the first pitch and popped up.
"You can't lose that game," Vaughn said. "They kept playing and we didn't. We've got to play the whole game for nine innings. Other teams I was on, when we got behind teams, we always felt we could come back. ... We just don't play solid. We're not playing solid. We won some games, but everything's a struggle for us. This is a tough one for me to understand. We weren't supposed to lose.
"We've got to be tougher. And we've got to expect to win."