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Kennedy shines again

Rookie left-hander wins second straight start in Rays' 9-5 victory over first-place Phillies.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 13, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Granted, two games is a small sample with which to work, but there's something different about the Rays when Joe Kennedy pitches.

They're more aggressive. They play at a brisker pace. They score early.

And they win.

In less than two weeks, Kennedy has established himself as something special, becoming the first Rays pitcher to win back-to-back starts this season and the first in team history to win his first two starts, beating the NL East-leading Phillies 9-5 on Tuesday.

"It's different when he pitches," manager Hal McRae said. "It was different in Toronto the first time out, mainly because he competes, he has good stuff and his composure on the mound. It's fun to watch."

photo
[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Rookie lefty Joe Kennedy tips his cap to an appreciative crowd after allowing two runs in 6 1/3 innings.
There were all kinds of smiles after the 22-year-old left-hander held the Phillies to four hits through 6 1/3 innings, and the Rays held on for their fourth victory in six games, their most successful stretch of the season.

"It was great," Kennedy said. "From the first pitch to the standing ovation at the end, the fans were great. My teammates put up a lot of runs for me tonight. (Catcher Mike) DiFelice behind home plate called a good game. And we came out on top; that's the important part."

Kennedy is one of the young players Rays officials keep promising will someday lead the team to consistent success, and Tuesday, before an announced Tropicana Field crowd of 12,602, they provided an encouraging glimpse.

Ben Grieve, the 25-year-old designated hitter/outfielder, tied a career high with five RBI, including a seventh-inning grand slam off the C-ring catwalk that provided the final margin.

Jason Tyner, the 24-year-old now-starting centerfielder, scored two runs, reached base on an error, stole a base and drove in a run.

Aubrey Huff, the 24-year-old third baseman, and Damian Rolls, the 23-year-old second baseman, each delivered key extra-base hits.

Travis Phelps and Dan Wheeler, the 23-year-old relievers, worked parts of the seventh and eighth, though Wheeler -- as kids tend to do -- made it exciting by allowing a three-run homer in the eighth to Bobby Abreu.

The youthful enthusiasm spread to the veterans. Greg Vaughn hit a towering home run off the C-ring catwalk in leftfield and later singled in a run, recording the 1,000th RBI of his career. Doug Creek got the final four outs. Fred McGriff, who had two hits and two walks, stole a base for the first time since Aug. 21.

"It was fun," Rolls said.

The headlines, though, belonged to Kennedy, who is an amazing 8-0 with a 1.28 ERA on his magic carpet ride of a season: 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA in the majors, 2-0 with a 2.42 ERA at Triple-A Durham, 4-0 with a 0.19 ERA at Double-A Orlando.

"He's pitching the way he pitched in the minor leagues, and that's what we told him to do: 'Don't change anything. The distance to home is the same, the width of the plate is the same, pitch your game,' " McRae said. "He doesn't know a lot about the hitters, and we're not concerned. He has the ability to make pitches."

Kennedy, who was pitching for the Class A Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs at this time last season, mixed his fastball and curveball and was aggressive from the start.

"He moved the ball around good," Phillies manager Larry Bowa said. "He used both sides of the plate. He had a good curveball. He throws strikes."

Kennedy said he was most pleased with throwing first-pitch strikes to 18 of his 24 batters, most displeased with the hanging curveball Travis Lee hit for a two-run homer in the seventh on his 95th, and final, pitch.

McRae also complimented Kennedy for his fielding prowess and his ability to control the Phillies' running game with a quality pickoff move.

But what may have been most impressive about Kennedy was simply this: He did what he had to do to win the game.

Tuesday's biggest out probably came in the fourth. The Rays led 3-0, but the Phillies had runners on second and third with one out for cleanup man Scott Rolen. Kennedy caught him looking at a 92 mph fastball -- "I knew I could get him in, so I just pounded him away, then came back in and struck him out," Kennedy said -- then got Pat Burrell on a liner to left.

"He showed composure," McRae said. "He made a pitch when he had to make a pitch."

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