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Rays don't let this one get away

John Flaherty's homer and Greg Vaughn's two help Tampa Bay bounce back from another early blown lead and beat the Orioles 7-4.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 16, 2001


BALTIMORE -- Sunday was starting to look a lot like Saturday for the Rays at Camden Yards. They jumped out to an early lead again, and their starting pitcher went and frittered it away again.

But this one came out differently, with the Rays coming back for a 7-4 victory over the Orioles and hoping it's the beginning of many happy endings to come.

"Today was a good day totally for the team," leftfielder Greg Vaughn said. "All aspects were good."

Vaughn was a big part, with two homers in a four-hit day. John Flaherty provided the decisive runs with a two-run tiebreaking homer in the seventh. Add four solid innings of relief from Doug Creek, Tanyon Sturtze and Esteban Yan after a so-so outing by starter Bryan Rekar, and the Rays (4-8) were feeling pretty good after winning for the third time in four games.

"We've played four or five good games in a row, and you want to keep building," manager Larry Rothschild said. "As the confidence grows, it becomes more of a habit."

photo
[AP photo]
Greg Vaughn singles against the Baltimore Orioles during the sixth inning of Sunday's win over the Orioles.
Having lost a game they should have won Saturday, the Rays said it was important not to let it happen again.

"Very, very important, my goodness," said Creek, who notched his third big-league win in 125 games. "You have to show yourself that you can come back and turn the tide of a game. We had guys who just stepped up today at the plate and made it happen."

Or, as Vaughn said: "We kept playing. We played for nine innings."

The other significant development was the signs of life from the offense. The Rays entered the game hitting .217, lowest in franchise history, and they hadn't scored more than five runs or had more than eight hits since the second day of the season.

First-year hitting coach Wade Boggs had been putting in extra hours with the players each day, working on their swings and their confidence. But with the struggles continuing, he cooked up a new plan, resorting to the old stand-by from his playing days, superstitiously eating chicken -- in some form -- before each game.

Sunday, the Rays had a season-high four home runs and 13 hits, raising the team average 12 points.

"I think everyone had omelets for breakfast," Boggs said. "That's where it all started."

Something worked.

"I think everyone's just battling," Flaherty said. "We know we're not swinging the bat well, and everyone's been coming early, working with Boggsy, trying to figure it out, get a little rhythm. It hasn't really clicked together offensively, but it's going to come. Today was a good sign. You can only keep guys who are proven hitters down so long. Eventually it's going to happen, and we have to ride our pitchers out until it does happen."

The Rays went to work quickly against Baltimore's Sidney Ponson. Gerald Williams hit his first pitch for a double. After an out, Vaughn hit a 1-and-0 pitch into the leftfield seats. Three pitches later, McGriff hit one over the right-centerfield fence, the Rays' first back-to-back homers of the season, to make it 3-0.

Rekar, though, couldn't hold it. He was fortunate to allow just one run in a sloppy second, then gave up homers to No. 7 hitter Greg Myers and No. 9 Jerry Hairston as Baltimore tied the score in the fourth.

"I just wasn't sharp," said Rekar, who threw 98 pitches in five innings, bothered slightly by a blister on his middle finger.

Creek did a fine job keeping the Orioles where they were, and Flaherty put the Rays back ahead in the seventh when he followed Russ Johnson's one-out walk with a homer to left.

"That was a huge swing in that game," Rothschild said.

Vaughn's second homer made it 6-3, and after the Orioles closed to 6-4 in the eighth, the Rays responded, Flaherty singling, going first to third on Felix Martinez's single and scoring on a hit by Williams.

Sturtze got three outs in the eighth, and Yan, looking impressive again, ripped through the ninth for his first save.

"We came back (Saturday), we just didn't come back far enough," Rothschild said. "Today we kept at it, we put good swings on the ball and we ended up putting the game away."

"I just know," Vaughn said, "we had a heck of a day."

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