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Pitching turnaround helps hitters relax

By MIKE READLING and MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 10, 2001


[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
The Rays' Randy Winn, celebrating his 27th birthday, steals third ahead of the throw to Robin Ventura in the third inning.
ST. PETERSBURG -- They say good play starts at the top. For the Rays, the top is their starting pitching.

Saturday, that task fell to Tanyon Sturtze, and for the fourth consecutive game the Rays starter answered. The result was a 5-2 win, marking the first time since April 25 Tampa Bay has won back-to-back games and giving the Rays their second series win of the season.

"It's been outstanding," second baseman Damian Rolls said. "When you have performances like that, when you're at the plate you don't press as much. You know when they're pitching like that, even when you don't get a hit, the pitching is going to get it done. It takes all the pressure off the hitters."

No pressure on the hitters apparently translates into more runs. Since Joe Kennedy pitched five innings of five-hit ball in his major-league debut Wednesday in Toronto, the Rays have scored 26 runs and won three of four.

Ryan Rupe started Friday night, earning the win while pitching seven shutout innings, allowing four hits and striking out seven. Sturtze followed by allowing two runs on eight hits and striking out two in seven innings.

"I didn't want to let Rupe show me up," Sturtze said. "I think that's the way we have to have the attitude here in the clubhouse. And that's the only way we're going to pull this thing around, is our starting pitching picks it up a little bit."

HALL AFLAME: Durham catcher Toby Hall was one of the hottest minor-leaguers in the country in May, hitting .379 with seven home runs and 16 RBI and being named the Topps International League player of the month.

Hall led the league with a .337 average and had 11 home runs and 43 RBI going into Saturday night's game.

GOIN' TO THE BEACH: Mike Piazza put on one of the most dazzling displays of power hitting ever seen at Tropicana Field, even if it was batting practice.

The Mets catcher hit three balls into the Beach, the upper deck in leftfield, including two on consecutive pitches. Former Ray Vinny Castilla is the only player to reach the Beach in a game, and only rarely does a batting practice pitch make it that far.

MOVIN' ON UP: Wilson Alvarez's first rehabilitation start for Double-A Orlando was a success. Alvarez, recovering from May 2000 shoulder surgery, went six shutout innings against Carolina, allowing three hits and striking out four. He threw 83 pitches and was clocked as high as 88 mph.

Juan Guzman, meanwhile, threw 58 pitches over six innings in an extended spring training intrasquad game Saturday morning at the Naimoli Complex. Guzman is scheduled to make his first minor-league start Friday for Double-A Orlando in Jacksonville.

WARHAWKS HONORED: Fans at Tropicana Field finally got the chance to cheer a championship baseball team Saturday as the Class 5A state champion Seminole High team was recognized after the first inning. The Warhawks, who won every game they played, stood on the third-base dugout and waved to fans as their names were called.

BIRTHDAY BOYS: Outfielder Randy Winn and ESPN basketball announcer Dick Vitale celebrated their birthdays at the Trop. Winn, who turned 27, marked the occasion with a triple, an RBI and two runs scored. Vitale, who turned 62, cheered him on from the third-base seats.

Today: Mets at Rays, 1:15

WHERE: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg.

TV/RADIO: Ch. 10; WFLA-AM 970, WLCC-AM 760 (Spanish).

TODAY'S PROMOTIONS: Fans 14 and under receive a Rays batting helmet and may run the bases after the game. WWRM-FM 94.9 and the Icon Laser Eye Center will hold a trauma teddy drive outside Gate 1. Each fan who donates a teddy bear, which will go to the Hillsborough and Pinellas sheriff departments, will receive a voucher for an upper general admission ticket. Fans presenting a coupon from the St. Petersburg Times can receive a lower deck outfield ticket, hot dog and Pepsi for $12 or an upper general admission ticket for $3.

INFO: Call 1-888-FAN-RAYS.

The pitchers

ALBIE LOPEZ: Lopez (3-7, 5.63) has gone from being the staff ace to dropping his past six decisions, second to teammate Bryan Rekar for longest losing streak in the AL. His last win was April 24 when he was 3-1 and owned a league-leading 1.66 ERA. His ERA since is 9.54.

KEVIN APPIER: Appier (3-5, 4.58) is coming off a seven-inning shutout performance in which he allowed two hits and struck out eight but didn't get the decision as the Mets lost 1-0 to Florida. Appier was 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA last season against Tampa Bay and is 3-0 lifetime.

You don't say

Rays manager Hal McRae won his 300th career game Saturday, but don't break out the champagne and cake. In fact, the first thing you might want to do is make sure McRae even knows what he has done; he didn't until someone told him after the game.

"You look at the record when it's all done," said McRae, still unimpressed by his 300-310 career mark. "That doesn't mean anything."

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