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At home, same tale for Rays

Travis Harper allows three homers in two innings, and the Red Sox cruise to a 10-0 win.

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Travis Harper tries to compose himself after allowing a home run to Carl Everett, the third Red Sox homer in two innings.
ST. PETERSBURG -- After the end of a dreadful road trip, it didn't seem things could get worse for the Devil Rays.

Tuesday night, they got worse.

"Hopefully we've hit rock-bottom and from here it changes," manager Larry Rothschild said after the four-homer, 10-0 pounding Boston administered before an announced 19,433, many of whom must have been Red Sox fans given the cheers at game's end.

"This is not the way you want to start a home-stand," Rothschild said. "Obviously we need to turn it around. When you're on your back you've got to get up and go."

The Rays were on their backs before they got to bat. Manny Ramirez's home run, the first of his two, put Rays rookie starter Travis Harper in a 2-0 hole. Ramirez also homered off Rusty Meacham in the ninth inning, the 22nd two-homer game of his career.

The Rays have said Harper has to prove he is ready to be in the starting rotation. The home runs by Ramirez, Brian Daubach and Carl Everett in two innings went a long way (1,257 feet) toward proving he isn't.

"I don't ponder that scenario very often," Harper said. "What I do think about is what it's going to take for me to get back in the groove. ... The first inning I had a lot of problems getting my fastball over for strikes, getting behind in the count. Basically I had problems with my command. I was falling behind, it seemed like the count was always 2-and-0, 3-and-1, whatever. It all came down to command."

While Tomo Ohka, with seven innings of seven-hit ball, and reliever Rich Garces were busy blanking the Rays and extending their scoreless streak against the Red Sox to 24 innings, Boston batters battered Harper even harder than they did at Fenway Park 10 days earlier, when he allowed two home runs in five innings.

He wasn't totally to blame for the carnage. Leftfielder Greg Vaughn's error on Daubach's routine foul fly helped grease the skids. Because of it, all five of Boston's second-inning runs were unearned.

"If the ball is dropped, it's caught, it doesn't matter," Harper said, absolving Vaughn of blame. "I've got to get back on the mound and make some quality pitches. I didn't do it after that."

Another unearned run in the seventh inning followed Aubrey Huff's error at third. After 59 pitches, Harper was gone. Mike Judd stopped the bleeding with four innings of four-hit, three-strikeout shutout pitching before the Rays raked Meacham for a run apiece in the final three innings.

With one out and one on in the first inning, Rays first baseman Fred McGriff dived to his right, knocked down Everett's hot grounder and got a force at second.

Everett stole second and Harper wild-pitched him to third. Everett actually raced home when Harper failed to cover the plate, but because the ball had lodged under the padding behind the plate, he was sent back to third.

No matter. On the next pitch, Ramirez hit a monster home run, the ball hitting the base of the C-ring about 100 feet above the centerfield fence, a drive estimated at 451 feet. He also homered off Rusty Meacham in the ninth, the 22nd two-homer game of Ramirez's career.

In the second inning, Shea Hillenbrand walked and Daubach lofted a fly down the leftfield line. Vaughn appeared to run one step too far, and the ball popped out of his glove.

"I lost it on the way down," he said. "I took my eye off it to see where I was, and I looked back up and didn't see it. At the last second it was right on top of me, almost behind me, I think. I blew it. I should have caught it. It'd have made it a lot easier for Harper. He gets that out and we can roll; he's in a lot better situation."

Daubach, given a second life, drilled Harper's two-strike pitch into the rightfield stands.

A walk to Trot Nixon and a double into the rightfield corner by Jose Offerman put runners at second and third and got Judd up in the Rays bullpen, but not soon enough. Everett ripped a three-run homer that curled around the rightfield foul pole for a 4-0 lead.

Harper finished the inning by striking out Ramirez, then was finished for the night.

So were the Rays.

"When you're seven runs down," Vaughn said, "you can't go with the same intensity as zero-zero."

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