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Loss doesn’t derail McRae's optimism

The Royals' Mac Suzuki shuts down Tampa Bay 6-0, but the Rays manager sees reason for hope after a series win.

[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
With a backdrop of nearly empty seats at Tropicana Field, Rays infielder Russ Johnson heads to the bench after striking out during Thursday's games against the Royals.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- They started the homestand with a shutout loss and finished it the same way, falling 6-0 to Kansas City in Thursday's matinee. In between, though, the Rays changed managers, shook up the lineup, improved their level of play and altered their perspective.

So as they packed for a weeklong trip to Detroit and Baltimore, the Rays were optimistic better days are ahead.

"We feel we're playing good baseball," manager Hal McRae said. "We were out-played today, but that happens at times. We feel good."

Those feelings, players say, pervade the clubhouse, from the atmosphere to the attitude.

"I think there's no choice but to try and go in a different direction," catcher Mike DiFelice said.

"You lose your manager and you've got another manager coming in and he's going to bring his philosophy on how he wants the team run. If anything, it's a gut check for the players. Now, what's the excuse? We have to prove that we can play baseball. You have a guy that's going to bring in a little different system or whatever, and it shows that the players have to go out there and perform. Hopefully that's what's going to go on, and it's been pretty good in here."

Victories Tuesday and Wednesday guaranteed the Rays their first series win of the season and a shot at their first three-game winning streak, but they didn't do much with the opportunity.

Kansas City's Mac Suzuki shut them down and shut them out for eight innings, getting 14 outs on ground balls and allowing two runners past first base.

"It was one of those days where we couldn't generate any offense," McRae said. "But Suzuki was outstanding. He kept the ball down and had good off-speed stuff."

Early on, a number of Rays hit the ball hard; they just happened to hit it right at people. As the game went on, Suzuki established more control.

"I thought we hit the ball really hard off of him," DiFelice said. "I wasn't counting or anything, but it seemed like everybody in the lineup hit some solid balls."

What was especially impressive about Suzuki's 107-pitch performance was he had arthroscopic shoulder surgery in October and had not exceeded 90 pitches in his first three outings.

"He's remarkable," Kansas City manager Tony Muser said. "The average time for a comeback after what he had done to his shoulder is seven to nine months. This is a compliment to Mac and how hard he worked to get back here."

By the time Jason Grimsley finished the ninth, the Rays had been shut out a major league-high fourth time.

That wasn't of much comfort to starter Bryan Rekar, who has received the lowest run support of all American League pitchers -- four runs in 28 innings.

McRae said Rekar pitched well enough to win, but the right-hander disagreed. "If you give up five runs in five-plus innings, you don't deserve a win," said Rekar, who is 0-3 with a 5.14 ERA.

The game was scoreless until the fourth, when Rekar allowed a two-out single to Mike Sweeney and a home run to centerfield by Dee Brown, who hadn't hit one in 96 previous big-league at-bats.

"We didn't have much of a scouting report on him," Rekar said. "I guess he can hit the fastball down the middle out. We might want to add that to the scouting report."

The Royals extended the lead to 3-0 when Carlos Beltran singled and Rey Sanchez doubled, and a Tampa Bay defensive lapse helped them stretch it further.

Sweeney blooped a lazy fly into short left-centerfield, but none of the Rays could catch it. With the infield in, shortstop Felix Martinez had too far to run going back. Leftfielder Ben Grieve and centerfielder Gerald Williams both charged tentatively, but neither called it and the ball dropped in.

"No one could say for sure they could catch it, so no one called it," Grieve said. "That makes it harder when you don't know who's going to try to catch it."

Said McRae: "A ball that stays up that long should be caught."

Still, the Rays feel better about things. "We're playing pretty good baseball as a team and starting to see some of the bad breaks starting to diminish a little bit," DiFelice said. "Hopefully we can start a nice little roll."

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