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Confusion reigns in another Rays loss

Three are ejected in beanball war no one remembers starting as Indians romp 9-4.

[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
After being inexplicably tosses, Rays catcher Mike DiFelice gets in the face of umpire Mike DiMuro.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- This is how bad it has gotten:

Not only did the Rays lose another game Saturday, they lost a fight, too. And they didn't even know they were in one.

Tampa Bay was beaten 9-4 by Cleveland to increase its major-league leading loss total to 21. Along the way, pitcher Mike Judd, manager Hal McRae and catcher Mike DiFelice were ejected for, well, some reason.

Umpire Mike DiMuro tossed Judd and McRae after the reliever threw an inside pitch to Indians catcher Einar Diaz in the eighth inning. DiMuro earlier had warned both benches after Indians starter Tim Drew hit two batters and Rays starter Paul Wilson hit one and came in tight on another.

Despite that backdrop, the umpiring crew seemed to be the only people among the announced 16,180 at Tropicana Field who thought Judd was intentionally throwing at Diaz. Judging from the booing in the stands, the fans did not think so. Based on their comments, neither did the Rays or Indians.

"I was shocked," Judd said. "It wasn't intentional at all. It was a fastball in. That's the book on him. That's what we had in our reports. I didn't even think it was that far in, actually. It was up, but it wasn't in."

The sentiment seemed to be the same in Cleveland's clubhouse.

"What Mike Judd did there, he was just pitching inside," Indians reliever Steve Karsay said. "If you're going to get thrown out of a game for pitching inside, there is nothing you can do about that. If you try to live away, away, away, you're going to get hurt in this game because the guys are just too good of hitters to do that."

Karsay figured into the controversy when he threw an inside fastball to Rays catcher John Flaherty in the bottom of the eighth.

That brought the Rays to the front of the dugout yelling at DiMuro, but the umpire did not respond.

"It was the same pitch as on Einar. I didn't think they were throwing at me, but I don't think Einar thought we were throwing at him," Flaherty said. "I didn't think there was intent on Karsay's part to hit me and the umpire didn't think so either. But I find it funny that he thought we were trying to hit Einar and they weren't trying to hit me.

"I just don't think he had a real good feel for what the situations were. It was unfortunate."

When DiFelice came out of the dugout to warm up the pitcher between innings, he had some choice words for DiMuro and was ejected.

Umpire crew chief Ed Rapuano said DiMuro thought Judd's pitch was intentional and Karsay's was not. Rapuano said the crew was merely trying to get control of the game after Rays shortstop Felix Martinez was hit in the leg by a pitch and, minutes later, Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel had a pitch thrown in the vicinity of his head.

"There is a new rule in Major League Baseball that they want a warning when there's a flagrant pitch to the head area," Rapuano said. "So (DiMuro) enforced the rule. He put a warning on both sides. That was made clear to everyone on the field."

McRae, who was automatically ejected along with Judd, said the situation escalated without cause.

"It was all about nothing," McRae said. "Let's play the game the way it was intended to be played. Being hit is part of baseball. That's part of the game. And I don't think that should be changed."

Other than the faux beanball war, the game was similar to a lot of other recent Tampa Bay games. In a word, frustrating.

The Rays took a 4-1 lead in the third when Fred McGriff hit a three-run homer, but Wilson got knocked around the next two innings. And the Rays bullpen was unable to stop the bleeding.

Cleveland's first three hitters -- Kenny Lofton, Vizquel and Roberto Alomar -- went 5-for-13.

"I just had some ground balls that got through the holes," Wilson said. "Their first couple of guys get on base and their 4-5-6 guys get them in. The key is getting Vizquel, Lofton and Alomar off the bases. When they get on, things happen."

Behind 6-4 in the fifth, the Rays had the bases loaded when Jose Guillen hit a shot over Marty Cordova's head in leftfield. Cordova went back and made a leaping, back-handed catch before crashing into the wall headfirst.

Cordova's play seemed to be the Rays' last gasp.

They went 1-for-13 the rest of the game.

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