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Rays flop early and often in a comical loss

Seattle scores five in the first off Ryan Rupe en route to a 7-4 victory.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 3, 2001


SEATTLE -- Maybe we've been going about this all wrong. Rather than criticize the Rays for their miserable performances and seemingly endless string of miscues and misadventures, perhaps we should celebrate them. Chronicle each in the proper perspective, because the way things are going, this certainly is going to be a season to remember.

Sure, the Rays lost again Saturday, 7-4 to Seattle, their fourth straight, 18th in 23 games, 40th out of 55 overall if you're still counting. But they made it very entertaining for the 45,473 at sold-out Safeco Field.

There was comedy, a fly ball bouncing off the centerfield wall and then off Gerald Williams' left shoulder for an important two-run double.

There was controversy, a dispute over a fan interference call that cost the Rays an out even though no Seattle player touched the ball, then cost them the services of manager Hal McRae, who was ejected after arguing.

There was concern, Greg Vaughn getting hit in the head with a pitch, then lying still and face down for a few seconds before rising up and remaining in the game.

And there was the consistent element of bad pitching, Ryan Rupe allowing the first seven Mariners to reach base in a five-run, 10-batter, 44-pitch opening inning.

(There also was a fan who ran onto the field in the seventh wearing only yellow boxer shorts, but all the Rays seemed to be accounted for and we don't think they were responsible.)

The win was the Mariners' 10th straight, tying their franchise record, and extended their amazing start to 42-12, best since the 1955 Dodgers.

As good as the Mariners are going, it doesn't seem to matter what the Rays do. They appeared to have a chance after Vaughn hit a two-out, two-run homer in the first, but Rupe, who looked so good Sunday in his first start since returning from Triple-A Durham, took care of that with a brutal show.

The score was 5-2 in the fourth, two outs and two on, when Edgar Martinez hit a drive to deep center. Williams went back ... backed into the wall ... put up his glove ... and ended up on every highlight show around.

The ball, eluding Williams' glove, hit the wall, hit Williams on the left shoulder, then hit the ground, allowing both runs to score.

It was going to take something really odd to top that as the game's most memorable moment, and it took all of a half-inning for that to happen.

Seattle sensation Ichiro Suzuki's attempt at a running catch of Russ Johnson's foul fly ball was circumvented by a fan, who made a decent grab himself. But first-base umpire Scott Higgins, who blew an obvious call Friday, called Johnson out, apparently citing fan interference.

McRae was quick to protest, likely arguing that Suzuki wouldn't have caught the ball anyway. Higgins listened for a few minutes and McRae started to walk away, but then turned and said what ended up being his final words. It was the third time McRae has been ejected this season.

Vaughn was batting in the seventh when reliever Ryan Franklin's pitch hit the side of his helmet, making a frightening thud, as Vaughn went straight to the ground. He stayed down just a few seconds -- replays showed the blow was somewhat glancing -- and stayed in the game for an inning and a half before being replaced by Jason Tyner.

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