Feeling good about new skipper, Tampa Bay rides clutch play to 6-5 victory over O's.
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 22, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- The first victory of the Hal McRae era was celebrated unremarkably Saturday. Handshakes for the coaches and players, the customary tip of the cap to his wife, Jo, and a cold bottle of beer in his office. He didn't keep a ball from the Rays' 6-5 win over Baltimore, figuring he'd be more interested in a keepsake from his 100th victory than the first.
The scene may have seemed subdued to those who knew the situation, knew how badly the Rays needed a win after losing the first three games under McRae, five straight and 13 of their first 17.
But to those who know the man, and the difference players say he has made since replacing Larry Rothschild on Wednesday, it was perfectly appropriate.
"There's a sense of ease around the players," Greg Vaughn said. "It's just, "Go play.' It's not worrying about different things. He's making everyone feel pretty relaxed. He talks and he's showing a lot of faith and patience. ... He's very positive. He lets you know he's behind you."
|[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Esteban Yan has something to get excited about: a Rays win and his second save of the season.
Some of that confidence McRae has shown in the players was rewarded in key ways before an announced 14,026 at Tropicana Field.
Ryan Rupe, who hadn't made it through the sixth in three winless starts, responded to McRae's challenge by retiring Jerry Hairston for the final out of the sixth on his 108th and final pitch, leaving the bases loaded and preserving a 4-3 lead.
Ben Grieve, who had not hit a homer during a rough opening three weeks, responded to the comforting shift to leftfield by hitting a huge home run in the seventh, a 463-foot blast that went off the D-ring catwalk and onto the walkway above the Batter's Eye restaurant, the first ball to land there.
Vinny Castilla, who hadn't driven in a run since April 6, responded to McRae returning him to the lineup by driving in the go-ahead run with a fourth-inning single, his first RBI since April 6.
Jose Guillen, the new regular rightfielder, made a big defensive play and had a key hit. Tanyon Sturtze, getting more comfortable as a setup man, got five outs on 13 dominating pitches. Randy Winn, making what will be a regular occasional start, legged out an infield single that produced the final run.
"The biggest thing I've noticed is that guys are a lot more relaxed," Vaughn said.
"He's showing confidence in you. You never look down and see a frustrated or depressed look. He's always upbeat, always positive. That's a big difference. You already feel bad about not getting the job done and you'd look in (the dugout at Rothschild) and it's like, uhhh. You know (McRae's) like "C'mon, keep going, you'll get him.' It's been good for everyone."
The Rays showed the first signs of that renewed spirit Friday, when they rallied from a 5-0 deficit to twice bring the tying run to the plate before losing 6-3.
Saturday, they rallied from two down to take a 3-2 lead in the third, with key hits by Russ Johnson, Vaughn and Fred McGriff, who also made a smart move on the bases by stalling enough so Vaughn could score.
The Orioles tied it in the fourth, but the Rays rallied again, with Guillen doubling and Castilla singling. Grieve's monstrous homer -- "I lost the flight of the ball," McRae said, "but they told me it traveled a great distance" -- made it 5-3. And the Rays added another in the eighth when Winn's infield single allowed John Flaherty to score.
They needed them all as Esteban Yan allowed two runs and had the tying run on first before closing out his second save.
Rupe, meanwhile, avoided serious trouble to get his first win and got the biggest out when he had to. McRae went to the mound once the bases were loaded, telling Rupe that Hairston would be his final batter and that he needed to get him out.
"He was spent; he was done," McRae said. "But everyone has something in reserve always. It's just a matter of trying to get it out, and I went out trying to get that reserve. He made a good pitch and got out of the inning."
The win was important to the fans, who hadn't seen a victory at the Trop since opening night. It was important for the players, to leave the field smiling and feeling good about things. And even if he wouldn't admit it, it was important to McRae too.
"The first one is sweet, but I'm not rejoicing," McRae said. "I'm happy the players had a good game."
Of course he was.
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