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For Rays, another day off target

Felix Martinez's throwing woes lead to a spot on the bench, a 5-3 loss and a league-worst 8-18 record.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


BALTIMORE -- The Rays have lost games this season because opponents have been better, because breaks didn't go their way, because they made the same kind of errors every other team makes at times. But it is when they beat themselves that they can be most painful to watch.

In the midst of Monday's 5-3 loss to Baltimore, manager Hal McRae apparently decided he had seen enough, pulling shortstop Felix Martinez from the game in the middle of the fifth inning.

"He looked fatigued," McRae said. "Either physically or mentally. He's playing like he's tired. I'll give him a day off (tonight)."

Martinez, a defensive specialist who had played all but one inning in the field this season, made consecutive poor plays in the fourth. With two outs, he fielded a routine grounder and sailed the throw well over first, his seventh error in the past 11 games and ninth overall, matching Cincinnati's Barry Larkin for the major-league high. He compounded the woes by making another mistake on the very next play, throwing the ball in the dirt.

He finished that inning, struck out to open the fifth, and was on the field warming up for the bottom half when McRae sent Damian Rolls to play second and shifted Russ Johnson, who has limited shortstop experience, to Martinez's spot.

McRae said the timing of the move, unusual at this level, was not designed to punish or embarrass Martinez. "I was thinking about it and I didn't know for sure what I wanted to do," McRae said. "I was just sitting there thinking. He was on the field when I made the decision to take him out. It was not premeditated."

Martinez, whose defensive lapses coincide with a significant increase in his offensive production, resulting in a robust .291 average, didn't have much to say.

"I feel bad. Defense is my game," said Martinez, who made 14 errors in 106 games last season. "He took me out. He's the boss, he can do whatever he wants. I can't do anything about that."

The loss dropped the Rays to 8-18, making this April their worst, and giving them little choice but to hope May is more kind.

"It's a new month and we can't get these games back," catcher John Flaherty said. "We just have to figure out ways to improve and get better."

One thing they hope to see is more good work out of Paul Wilson. Even though he gave up four runs in the first two innings, the Rays were excited by the sum of his performance over 61/3 innings.

"He seems to be getting better," McRae said. "This was his most encouraging outing."

Brady Anderson started the game with a bang, knocking Wilson's fourth pitch over the rightfield wall, the 44th time he has led off a game with a home run, second only to Rickey Henderson's 78.

Wilson got in trouble right away in the second, walking Jay Gibbons and giving up a two-run homer to Melvin Mora. The Orioles have hit a major-league low 16 homers, but eight have been against the Rays.

"Two mistakes equal three runs and that was the difference," Wilson said.

Wilson walked the next batter, Brook Fordyce, and that cost him too as Fordyce came around to score on Delino DeShields' sacrifice fly.

Wilson found a groove after that, and tried to view the outing as a positive despite a somewhat messy line -- 61/3 inning, 6 hits, 5 runs, 4 earned, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts. "I kept battling," he said.

Offensively, the Rays continued their struggles, shut down for the second time in 11 days by journeyman Willis Roberts.

They got two runs in the fourth when Ben Grieve -- who had his fourth multi-hit game of the season -- doubled, Greg Vaughn walked, Fred McGriff's liner to left-center became a double when DeShields couldn't hang on for what would have been a diving catch, and Jose Guillen's ground-out netted his second RBI.

They got to 5-3 in the sixth, though they could have had more. Grieve singled, Vaughn walked and with one out Castilla was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Guillen's fly to right produced one run and John Flaherty's fly out ended the rally.

"I say it's early, and this is a good team," Wilson said. "We can play baseball. We've got to start playing baseball."

April powers

April never has been kind to the Rays. Here is a look at how they have done over the opening month in each of their four seasons:

(Year,W-L,P-GB,BA,ERA)

1998, 12-13, 4-6.5, .288, 4.06

1999, 12-12, 3-3.5, .265, 4.98

2000, 9-15, 5-6.5, .290, 6.15

2001, 8-18, 5-8.5, .231, 4.71

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