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Rays rebound, avoid sweep

A day after being shut out, Tampa Bay returns the favor, defeating the Indians 7-0.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 14, 2001


CLEVELAND -- The talk has been about wasted money and wasted chances. Players who have been less than expected and mistakes that have been more than frequent. On the field, in the clubhouse and in the boardroom, it seemed the Rays simply could do no right.

rays photo
[AP photo]
Steve Cox is congratulated in the dugout by Gerald Williams after Cox's two-run homer off Indians reliever Justin Speier in Sunday's game at Cleveland.
It was as if the Rays needed to throw up their hands and declare that's the way the paycheck bounces.

Yet in the middle of the mess are moments of glory. Moments like a perfect Sunday afternoon before a soldout crowd. Moments when a last-place team can pummel one streaking toward first. Moments when Tanyon Sturtze has a ball in his hand and a losing streak at his mercy.

The Rays beat the Indians 7-0 Sunday to avoid a second straight sweep against the American League Central contenders. The Rays had lost four in a row overall and five straight against the Indians.

"They looked like regular guys today. They hadn't looked like regular guys the last five games," manager Hal McRae said of Cleveland's lineup. "It was a nice game to watch."

More and more, that is the norm when Sturtze pitches. Since Aug. 5, the right-hander has started seven games. Tampa Bay has won all seven. As a Rays starter, Sturtze is 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA.

Ten games ago, Sturtze was a setup man in the bullpen. Since then, he has been the starting pitcher in Tampa Bay's only two victories.

"Their pitcher did a great job for a guy coming out of the bullpen," Indians manager Charlie Manuel said. "That was a very good job. He got us out when he really had to."

For all the talk of Vinny Castilla, Ken Hill, Juan Guzman, Wilson Alvarez and wasted salaries, it is important to remember that not every move has turned sour. The Athletics, Cubs, Rangers and White Sox had given up on Sturtze before he came to Tampa Bay from the White Sox in exchange for utility infielder Tony Graffanino.

Given the chance to start at the end of last season, he rattled off five quality outings before going down with a rib injury. Sturtze, 30, was sent back to the bullpen this spring, but was given a reprieve by McRae last week.

He got no decision in his first start against Baltimore, then was asked Sunday to face the team leading the majors in batting average and runs scored.

"He pitched today. He's kind of been a thrower in his career, but now he's really pitching," catcher John Flaherty said. "I told him after he was done, to shut down that lineup, that's saying something. In order to do that, you have to basically be perfect."

Sturtze, who matched his career high at seven innings, said his greatest concern was surviving the first. The previous two nights, the Rays had fallen behind 5-0 in the first and lost 10-6 and 8-0.

On Sunday, they went up 1-0 in the top of the inning when Ben Grieve, Greg Vaughn and Steve Cox hit consecutive singles.

"The biggest thing was the first inning, after what's happened the past couple of nights," Sturtze said. "I just really wanted to put up a zero, especially after we scored. I tried to hit every spot I could."

With the first inning out of the way, the Rays were in control. Grieve, Vaughn and Cox provided Sturtze a cushion with three consecutive hits again in the third and Cox put the game away with a two-run homer in the fifth.

"Getting swept and getting slaughtered, it was important that we normalize our offense and normalize the Indians," McRae said. "They played like a normal team and we haven't been able to do that lately because they've been pounding us."

Coming into the game, Tampa Bay's 10-26 record was the worst start by an AL team since the 1994 Athletics had the identical record.

The Indians had a lot do with that, winning all five meetings by a score of 45-19. Since this was Tampa Bay's final game against Cleveland in 2001, Sunday's victory avoided a season sweep.

"It's nice to be able to do that to someone else for a change," Cox said. "It's been a long time since we've won a game by more than a run or two."

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