By JOHN ROMANO
© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 6, 2001
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
|Getting Armed: Rays scouting director Dan Jennings, left, and general manager Chuck LaMar hope they've picked up a future ace in a pitching-heavy first day.
TORONTO -- Having scored four runs or fewer in 10 of the previous 11 games, Rays manager Hal McRae decided something had to change. If not the offensive results, at least the offensive approach.
McRae called a meeting for Tampa Bay hitters before Tuesday's game and implored them to use a more basic, and intelligent, game plan.
"We need to break it down to its simplest form and start all over," McRae said. "I won't tell them anything they don't already know, but sometimes the water isn't always clear enough for you to see.
"I think it's time to talk about it because we need to get better."
McRae said he does not dwell on statistics, but does pay attention to walks, strikeouts and on-base percentage. The Rays are 11th, 13th and 13th in the AL in those categories.
During spring training, hitting coach Wade Boggs and former manager Larry Rothschild emphasized the need for more patience and adherence to situational hitting, but few Rays have complied. Randy Winn is the only player in the lineup with as many walks as strikeouts.
"A hitter has to know himself," McRae said. "A hitter has to expect a pitcher to make mistakes. He has to feel like, "I'm going to get my pitch to hit.' "
HOW ABOUT HYANNISPORT?: They have come from New York, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania and heaven knows where else. He did not have a final tally, but Joe Kennedy figures at least 20 family and friends have flown to Toronto to see his major-league debut tonight. His mother and father, brother and sister, grandparents, best friend and aunts and uncles will be on hand. Another 50-60 are expected to gather in San Diego to watch the game by satellite.
The rookie left-hander was called up from Triple-A Durham on Friday after rocketing through the minors the past two months. He said the few days he spent with the team has helped acclimate him. It's also given McRae and teammates a chance to pass on advice.
"They all tell me to relax and keep doing the same thing," Kennedy said. "The plate is still the same."
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: SkyDome turned 12 years old on Tuesday, prompting a stadium mini-quiz in the Rays clubhouse.
Who hit the first home run in stadium history? None other than Rays first baseman Fred McGriff, who blasted a two-run shot off Milwaukee's Don August. And who had the first stolen base at SkyDome? Yup, it was McGriff. Although he went on to lead the AL in home runs in 1989, his stolen base was one of seven that season.
"When it first opened, we were drawing 50,000 here every night," said McGriff, who played for the Blue Jays from 1986-90. "It was unbelievable when it first opened. It's still a great stadium, but it is 12 years old now."
JUSTICE IS BLIND: McRae did not disagree with designated hitter Greg Vaughn's blunt assertion after Sunday's game that the Rays get the raw end of the deal when it comes to close calls with umpires.
But McRae was not too worked up about the issue. He said it comes with the territory for a last-place team.
"I wouldn't rule that out, but I'm not going to complain either," McRae said. "Everybody loves a winner. That's life. That's generally how life works."
JOE KENNEDY: Kennedy makes his major-league debut after going 6-0 with a 0.99 ERA at Double-A Orlando and Triple-A Durham. Kennedy is 29-15, 2.77 since being a fifth-round pick in 1998. He becomes the first left-hander to start for the Rays since Wilson Alvarez on Oct. 2, 1999.
CHRIS MICHALAK: Michalak (5-3, 3.07) is one of the surprise stories of the season. A 30-year-old rookie, he has been in seven organizations, opening the 2000 season with the Rays' Triple-A Durham team before being released in late April. He has been Toronto's most consistent starter.
The Blue Jays had mercy on the Rays on Tuesday. After playing their first 29 home games with the roof closed at SkyDome, Jays officials were hopeful of playing in the fresh air Tuesday night. They kept the roof open even while clouds began to appear in late afternoon. Finally, as the temperature dipped below 60 degrees, the roof was closed five minutes before game time. With a roof over their heads and thousands of empty seats surrounding them, the Rays had to feel right at home.
A look at how the Rays, at their current winning percentage, project against the worst losers of all time:
Team Lg. W L Pct. NYM/1962* NL 40 120 .250 TB/2001 AL 43 119 .265 PHI/1916 AL 36 117 .235 BOS/1935 NL 38 115 .248 WAS/1904 AL 38 113 .252 NYM/1965 NL 50 112 .309 PIT/1952 NL 42 112 .273 *-expansion team