With Fred McGriff out, the offense offers little against A.J. Burnett.
By KEVIN KELLY
© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 16, 2001
MIAMI -- The perspective is as infrequent as the interleague games themselves, but Tanyon Sturtze knew he was watching something special as he batted against A.J. Burnett on Friday night.
"He was throwing hard," Sturtze said. "It's been a long time for me to be in the batter's box and he threw one up by my head one time and I said, "Oh, my god.' "
Burnett, one of baseball's most dominant pitchers right now and a burgeoning fan favorite in south Florida, had a similar effect on those Rays who hit and coach for a living.
"We ran into a hot pitcher," manager Hal McRae said. "That happens."
Without first baseman Fred McGriff in the lineup because of a slightly strained right hamstring, Burnett held the Rays to three hits and didn't allow a runner past second base through the first eight innings of a 7-4 win in front of an announced crowd of 14,387 at Pro Player Stadium.
"Today was his day," leftfielder Greg Vaughn said.
It couldn't have been what the Rays were hoping for on the heels of a homestand during which they won five of six, including a three-game sweep of the NL East-leading Phillies.
Tampa Bay hasn't won four games in a row since September.
"When you look at it, we've been playing good ball," second baseman Damian Rolls said. "Yeah we lost tonight, but we weren't going to go undefeated for the rest of the season. It's baseball. You've got 162 games. You're bound to lose sometime."
Whether the absence of McGriff had anything to do with the Rays' lack of offense for most of the game was of no debate afterward. McGriff, 9-for-17 with two doubles and four home runs during the recent homestand, said the hamstring had been bothering him since Thursday.
"I'll come tomorrow and see what happens," he said.
Though Burnett was dominating -- his fastball consistently was in the 90 mph range and he retired the first batter of every inning except for the ninth -- Tampa Bay thought it had a chance to win until the Marlins' lead went to 7-0 in the seventh.
Florida scored four runs in the second inning off Sturtze, including a two-run triple by shortstop Alex Gonzalez, and three more in the seventh.
"We really didn't do very much to help ourselves the first seven innings," McRae said. "Offensively we didn't generate anything. Pitching-wise we were in the game at 4-0."
Sturtze walked the bases loaded in the fifth inning and after a conference on the mound with McRae, got Mike Lowell to ground into a double play and Kevin Millar to ground out to third.
"Coming in the dugout, everyone was pretty pumped up that they didn't score any runs with bases loaded," Sturtze said. "I thought we felt pretty good coming into the dugout and that we'd get something going and (Burnett would) just shut it right down."
Burnett retired 11 in a row after Rays catcher Mike DiFelice singled in the fifth inning. Sturtze, meanwhile, made it to the seventh before being replaced by Doug Creek with two runners on and nobody out.
"He kept us in the ballgame," McRae said. "I was trying to get as many innings from him as possible because he settled down and was throwing the ball better."
Sturtze was charged with six runs after Lowell hit a three-run home run to leftfield off Creek, but struck out a career-high six.
"I thought that I threw the ball very poorly," Sturtze said. "I was in trouble a lot of the innings."
Burnett, who pitched a no-hitter against the Padres on May 12 despite walking nine, pitched to the first three batters in what wound up as a four-run ninth for Tampa Bay. Vaughn hit a run-scoring single and Ben Grieve hit a two-run triple in the final inning.
He allowed three runs and struck out seven for his third win in his past four starts, and tipped his hat to a standing ovation as he walked off the field.
"He's a hot pitcher," McRae said. "But as long as we play well I know we'll win our share of ballgames. We finished well tonight although we didn't pitch or hit as well as we wanted to early."