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No-hit to near victory

Tim Wakefield takes no-hitter into ninth; Rays rally but fall short 5-4.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 20, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Perhaps it served him right. Perhaps this is how a knuckleball pitcher should lose a no-hitter. With a pooch hit. A broken-bat soft liner to the opposite field.

Infuriating, isn't it?

So now Tim Wakefield knows how the Devil Rays felt after facing his slow, dancing pitches throughout the night in Boston's 5-4 victory Tuesday.

The Red Sox hurler took a no-hitter into the ninth before Randy Winn hit a no-out bloop over the third baseman's head.

"I'm not disappointed I gave up a hit," Wakefield said. "I'm more emotionally and mentally drained from taking a no-hitter into the ninth."

The drama had been building the entire evening, but it did not end with Winn's hit. After cheering Wakefield's flirtation with history, the announced crowd of 12,950 at Tropicana Field suddenly found itself caught up in a wildly improbable Rays comeback.

Trailing 5-0 without the whiff of a run for eight innings, Tampa Bay scored four times in the ninth and came within 18 inches or so of tying the score when pinch-hitter Steve Cox hit a drive off the top of the centerfield wall. With Cox on second, pinch-hitter Russ Johnson popped out to end the game.

"If it got up another foot or so, it would have been a big home run," Cox said. "As it turned out, it was just a hit. Just another hit."

So it became a loss. Just another Rays loss.

And manager Hal McRae was not inclined to feel any special fondness despite the late rally.

McRae did not go into specifics, but wild pitches probably figure prominently in his displeasure. The Rays have been on a record pace for wild pitches most of the season, and three more Tuesday night led to Boston runs in the fourth and eighth innings.

"We came back and put an inning together, but that gets old. To repeat the same phrases becomes difficult," McRae said. "It looks like we played a good game and an exciting game, but we played giveaway. That is how we lose."

Apparently there was much grumbling on the Rays bench about umpire Rick Reed's strike zone. One of the few strategies for hitters facing a knuckleball pitcher is getting ahead in the count and forcing him to throw fastballs. But Wakefield consistently threw knuckleballs for strikes early in the count. Of his 113 pitches, he threw 76 for strikes.

McRae, who has heard his players complain about umpires, said that excuse no longer will fly.

"I'm not going to b---- about plays that went against us because we can't cry if things don't go our way," McRae said. "I wanted to scream and holler all night to the umpires about plays going against us, but I'm not going to do that. That is not the appropriate thing to do.

"We've got to just kick some butts and don't cry."

Starter Bryan Rekar, who has been victimized by lack of run support, poor defense and shoddy bullpen work this season, now can add Tropicana Field to his list of calamaties.

Like Wakefield, Rekar did not give up a hit through three innings. He got himself in trouble in the fourth by walking Manny Ramirez to lead off and moving him to second with a wild pitch.

Rekar appeared to get the second out when Brian Daubach hit a towering fly to short rightfield. As Winn moved in for the catch, the ball struck a catwalk and did not immediately come down. It was ruled a ground-rule double, and Ramirez scored.

"Whenever I pitch, (stuff) like that happens," Rekar said. "It was typical of 2001 for me."

The Rays also thought they had broken up Wakefield's no-hitter twice. Damian Rolls hit a bloop to left with two outs in the eighth, but Troy O'Leary made a sensational sliding catch to temporarily preserve it.

Jason Tyner made another bid to end the no-hitter with a soft grounder to second to lead off the ninth. Jose Offerman had to rush to catch Tyner, and his throw pulled Brian Daubach off the bag.

Wakefield returned to the mound unsure whether he still had a no-hitter. As he prepared for his first pitch to Winn, a roar went up from the crowd because the official scorer's decision -- error on Offerman -- was posted.

"It's a tough call for him to make," Tyner said. "I think if the same play happens in the first inning, he would flash a hit."

Wakefield got two quick strikes on Winn, but a high knuckleball was hit just out of Chris Stynes' reach at third.

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