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Grieve reaching his yearly turning point

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Ben Grieve went into Saturday's game with a .219 average. Certainly not the number the Rays hoped he would be putting up when they traded for him in January, but significant nonetheless.

That average was Grieve's best since April 7.

Grieve is a notoriously slow starter. In his three full seasons, he has consistently slumped through April only to come alive in May.

His career April average with Oakland was .256. "I don't really know why that is," Grieve said. "I don't really see the ball any differently; I think I just take better swings. I guess it's my timing. One year I slumped until the end of May. I'm glad it didn't go that far this year."

After Saturday's 2-for-4 performance with a double and run scored, his average is at to .230. He has four extra-base hits in his past five games and is coming off a week in which he had a season-high four hits against Baltimore.

The Rays and Grieve's wife, Kathy, couldn't be happier.

In 1999 Grieve, a career .280 hitter, was in one of the worst slumps of his career. It was May 18 and not only was the outfielder hitting .130, but it was Kathy's birthday. An 0-for-4 night frustrated him so much, he forgot.

"I was struggling pretty bad," he said. "I just forgot it. I took the next night off."

From the looks of things Kathy's birthday is safe this year, and the Rays may be about to see some signs of the former American League Rookie of the Year.

Grieve is second on the team with six doubles, tied for second with 13 RBI and first with 18 walks. His swing feels better, he said, and perhaps the most important sign is the ball is starting to go to the opposite field.

"That is one of the signs that I'm swinging the bat well," Grieve said. "When I hit it hard the other way."

HELPING OUT: When Ellis Burks slid past second base and was tagged out by Felix Martinez, he did more than earn the third out of the fifth inning. Rays rightfielder Jose Guillen recorded the assist on the play, moving him into first in the league with six. The player he passed: Cleveland's Juan Gonzalez.

Guillen led the Rays with seven outfield assists last season, and he is on pace to break Quinton McCracken's team record of 18, set in 1998.

SITTING OUT: Rays top prospect Josh Hamilton has missed the past five Orlando Rays games with the flu.

CIRCLE THE WAGONS: The Rays have lost 10 of their past 12 games against the Indians, making them 9-22 all-time against Cleveland. That .290 winning percentage is Tampa Bay's worst against any American League team. The Indians have 150 runs in their past 21 games against Tampa Bay, a 7.14 average.

ONE MORE DINGER: Fred McGriff has the chance to join an elite group today if he can homer off Cleveland starter Chuck Finley. Finley would be the 300th pitcher McGriff has taken deep, putting him in a group with Mark McGwire, Eddie Murray, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds and Reggie Jackson.

McGriff is .222 lifetime against Finley (4-for-18).

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