By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 20, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- Just walking into the controlled setting of Tropicana Field gave Boston starter Tim Wakefield a pretty good feeling about Tuesday's game. Warming up in the bullpen had Wakefield and catcher Scott Hatteberg laughing out loud with excitement.
"His knuckleball was outstanding warming up," Boston pitching coach Joe Kerrigan said. "You could see the movement and command he had of it. Hatte was kind of giggling halfway through his warmup about how hard it was to catch.
"It was just one of those nights where he had one of those magical knuckleballs."
Wakefield had something working all right. And there wasn't much the Rays could do about it, flailing away unsuccessfully at pitches that rarely measured 70 mph until Randy Winn ended the no-hit bid, though not the drama, with a single in the ninth.
"It was pretty good tonight," Wakefield said. "I enjoy pitching indoors. I enjoy pitching in Tampa Bay. It was one of those nights when everything felt good."
Wakefield had come close to no-hitters twice, taking one into the seventh against Oakland on June 9, 1995, and into the eighth at Minnesota a month later. The last knuckleballer to pitch a no-hitter was Phil Niekro, for Atlanta against San Diego on Aug. 5, 1973.
Of his 113 pitches Tuesday, Wakefield threw 86 knuckleballs, 57 that were strikes or put into play. The 24 curveballs and three fastballs helped, but the darting and dancing knuckleball was the key to his success.
"What did (Willie) Stargell used to say about (Steve) Carlton's slider, it was like trying to drink coffee with a fork?" Kerrigan said. "That's about what it was tonight, trying to hit that thing."
BRAZELTON CLOSE: Top draft pick Dewon Brazelton could be wearing a Rays minor-league uniform within a week if contract talks keep progressing.
"I think that's realistic optimism," Rays scouting director Dan Jennings said. "The dialogue has been good and there have been indications from the player and the agent that he's wanting to get this done and not be a long holdout."
Jennings said the parties are close to agreement on the basic points of the deal, a package expected to be worth around $4-million and include a major-league contract. The remaining points of negotiation, Jennings said, are more structural.
Once signed, Brazelton likely will be assigned to Class A Charleston or to the short-season Hudson Valley team, which opened play Tuesday.
It has been more than two weeks since the Rays made the Middle Tennessee State junior the third pick of the draft, but Jennings said he does not consider the talks to be dragging, especially not when only one of the top 10 picks (Chris Smith, taken seventh by Baltimore) has signed.
"We've had great success getting our guys done relatively quickly, and based on the other guys in this draft this will also be done quicker than others," Jennings said.
The Rays also are negotiating with second-round pick Jon Switzer, a left-hander from Arizona State. Five of their top 10 picks have signed, including No. 6 Matt Rico, an outfielder who did so Monday.
ON THE CATWALK: Brian Daubach's fourth-inning double that hit and briefly stuck in the B-ring catwalk above rightfield was the sixth fair ball in the past four games at the Trop to hit something. It was the 11th of the season and 38th in the 278 games at the stadium.
HONDO IN THE HOUSE: Senior adviser for baseball operations Frank Howard was in uniform Tuesday, helping with pregame work. "He brings enthusiasm," manager Hal McRae said.
MINOR MATTERS: Wilson Alvarez, still working his way back from May 2000 shoulder surgery, takes his rehab tour to the Triple-A level tonight, starting for Durham against Ottawa. ... Outfielder Carl Crawford, shortstop Jorge Cantu and pitcher Jim Magrane will represent the Rays in tonight's Double-A Southern League All-Star Game. ... Second baseman Brent Abernathy has a 10-game hitting streak for Triple-A Durham, raising his average to .268.
RAYS BITS: Counting Tuesday's game, the Rays play 20 straight days leading to the All-Star break. ... Greg Vaughn was the designated hitter Tuesday, but McRae said he is likely to play leftfield three or four days a week, with Ben Grieve getting the other two or three starts. ... The violent late-afternoon storms caused minor flooding in the Red Sox dugout.
WHERE: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg.
RADIO: WFLA-AM 970, WLCC-AM 760 (Spanish).
TODAY'S PROMOTION: Web site Wednesday -- With a coupon printed off the team Web site, devilrays.com, lower reserved seats, regularly $23, are $10, and Diamond Club boxes, regularly $35, are $20.
TICKETS: Available at stadium box office; through Ticketmaster phone and retail outlets; at team stores in WestShore Plaza, Brandon Town Center and BayWalk.
INFORMATION: Call 1-888-FAN-RAYS.
RYAN RUPE: Rupe didn't think he was pitching too poorly early in the season, but he is doing better after a tuneup in the minors. In four starts since coming back, he is 2-1 with a 4.15 ERA. He didn't get a decision in his only start against Boston, allowing one run in six innings.
DAVID CONE: The wily veteran makes his seventh start after missing six weeks with shoulder problems. He is 2-1 with a 4.71 ERA and has pitched better of late, but he has allowed seven home runs in 282/3 innings. Cone has won both his starts at the Trop, posting a 1.35 ERA.
Rookie Joe Kennedy was the only Rays pitcher to get a hit during the weekend, and he cashed in on his success Tuesday, collecting winnings from his fellow starters. "He should have some taken away for sliding headfirst (into third) and wearing his elbow guard on the bases," Tanyon Sturtze said.