The heart of the order shows signs of life in a 7-1 victory over the Orioles.
By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2001
BALTIMORE -- The final day of the road trip proved to be one of discovery for the Rays.
They found their offense, banging out a season high-tying 15 hits on their way to a much-needed 7-1 victory over the Orioles on Wednesday night.
And they found a new starting pitcher, announcing afterward that Tanyon Sturtze would join the rotation and Ryan Rupe, despite his best outing of the season, would go to the bullpen.
When you've lost three in a row, five of six and a major-league high 19 overall, winning is what matters most. But given how much they've struggled offensively, last in the majors in scoring going into the game, it had to be nearly as important to the Rays how they did it.
The seven runs don't sound like all that much, but it was just the second time in a week, and sixth time in 28 games, they'd gotten that many. The 15 hits matched their opening-night season high.
"It just came together," Greg Vaughn said. "We've just got to keep it going."
Ben Grieve, who had two hits in a game just four times, rapped a season-high four, including a three-run homer, and matched a career high with five RBI.
Vaughn, who'd been 0-for-18 and 1-for-23, drove in one run with a sacrifice fly and scored another after a single. Vinny Castilla, who had one RBI in his past 16 games, knocked one in with the first of his two singles. Gerald Williams, Damian Rolls and Jose Guillen each had two hits as well.
"Hopefully some guys get hot," Grieve said. "We had such a bad first month hitting-wise, it can only get better."
"Just a matter of time," Castilla said.
McRae, who held an expanded extra batting practice session before the game, was encouraged but not overly excited.
"It takes more than one night,"he said. "We had one good night, that's all. You have to do that consistently."
If anything, he was more pleased with the total team effort: the hitting, some aggressive early-inning baserunning that he said set the tone for the night, good defense and quality pitching by Rupe and Sturtze.
"It was a very well-played game," said McRae, who has a 5-9 record since replacing Larry Rothschild, who started 4-10. "It was winning baseball what we played tonight. The way we need to play if we're going to consistently win."
Rupe, who struggled in his first five starts, responded with his strongest outing, allowing one run on four hits over five innings. But what Rupe didn't know, and what Sturtze did, was that a decision had been made a few days ago to make the change.
So even though Rupe was leading 3-1 and had thrown just 65 pitches, he was taken out after five innings and replaced by Sturtze, who needed to be extended to three or four innings so he'd be ready to start Tuesday.
"The decision was made before (Rupe) pitched," McRae said. "I would have felt bad for Rupe and the ballclub if we'd lost the ballgame because (Rupe) was throwing so well. But you make a decision, and one outing can't change your conviction if that's what you believe."
Sturtze, who has hungered for the chance to return to the rotation, was impressive with four shutout innings, picking up his first major-league save on his last night as a reliever. "I kind of snuck that one in there," he said.
Castilla lent a hand with a spectacular diving play, disrupting a potential seventh-inning rally when the Orioles were down 4-1 with two on and one out. "A great play," Sturtze said. "Pretty much saved my whole night."
The night started well, as Williams hustled to a first-inning run. He led off with an infield single, made a bold move by going to second on a fly to deep center, went to third on Grieve's hard single to right and scored on Vaughn's fly to shallow left, beating Delino DeShields' weak throw.
Castilla knocked in a run with a fourth-inning single. Then Grieve took over, singling in runs in the fifth and seventh and hitting a three-run homer, his second of the season, in the ninth.
"We've been waiting for all of them to have what we did tonight," McRae said. "We scored some runs. We finally got some clutch hitting and some timely hitting."