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Rays can't dig out of hole

The Yankees take a seven-run lead and hold on for 7-5 victory.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 30, 2001


photo
[AP photo]
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter leaps to throw out Mike DiFelice from shallow leftfield in the fifth inning.
NEW YORK -- The Rays lost to the Yankees 7-5 Friday night, but they didn't go down without a fight.

Or an argument.

Trailing 7-0 after a rough start by Bryan Rekar, the Rays battled back against Roger Clemens and the Yankees' suspect bullpen, getting the potential tying run to the plate in the eighth.

"Too big a deficit to overcome," Rays manager Hal McRae said. "The troops swung the bat well and they continued to play, but we came up short."

The Rays were cobbling what became a four-run rally in the seventh when catcher Mike DiFelice did his part to ensure they weren't going to go quietly no matter what.

DiFelice objected to a called third strike and suddenly was nose to nose in a heated and extended exchange with home-plate umpire Ed Rapuano. DiFelice, who appeared to be right based on TV replays that showed the pitch to be inside, was tossed relatively quickly in the discussion, but even with McRae in the middle as a peacemaker, Rapuano refused to walk away.

"He's the bully at that point, it doesn't have to end," McRae said. "There's no recourse to him. He's going to heave the guy, and the more (DiFelice) says and the more he does, the uglier the report is. (Rapuano) was the bully at that point. It appeared he didn't want it to end."

DiFelice said he felt Rapuano came after him. "I thought it was a ball. From there, I guess you'll have to look at the video," DiFelice said. "Once you're in that type of situation you're not really conscious of what's going on. We mixed some words."

What kept the Rays from what would have been just their second three-game winning streak of the season was the problem that has hurt them in repeated stretches this season -- a poor job by the starting pitcher.

A couple of misplays and missed plays by outfielders Ben Grieve and Greg Vaughn contributed to the Yankees' first two runs/ But Rekar caused most of the damage, giving up a pair of two-run homers.

[AP photo]
Rays shortstop Felix Martinez tags out Derek Jeter trying to steal second in the third inning.

He hung an 0-and-1 slider that No. 9 hitter Alfonso Soriano knocked over the leftfield fence in the fourth, and threw "a sinker that didn't sink" that Tampa's Tino Martinez blasted into the upper-deck rightfield seats in the fifth. "A good home run pitch," Rekar said.

For much of the season, Rekar performed much better than his record indicated. But Friday, bothered by a blister on his right middle finger that became more tender as the night went on, he looked very much like a pitcher with a 1-9 record and 5.25 ERA.

"Just one of those nights," Rekar said. "One of those crappy nights."

Clemens (11-1) held the Rays to four hits through the first six innings, but the Rays did knock him out in the seventh.

It was that effort, McRae said, that redeemed the night.

"The guys didn't quit," he said. "I feel good about the way we're swinging and scoring, we just didn't pitch well enough tonight."

Aubrey Huff, in the midst of an 8-for-15 tear, was a key part of the comeback, doubled in two runs in the seventh, and knocking in another in the eighth with his first big-league triple.

"He's swinging the bat well," McRae said.

The Rays, with three strong relief innings from Jeff Wallace, had a chance to tie, but John Flaherty flied to right to end the eighth, and they didn't get another as Mariano Rivera struck out the side looking in the ninth for his 25th save.

As the Rays filed out of the clubhouse, knowing they'd be back 12 hours later for today's 12:35, there was a sense of encouragement.

Their seven rookies got the Yankee Stadium jitters out of the way. They played another tight game against one of the league's best teams. And they continued to generate offense, scoring four or more runs for the sixth straight game, the first time they've been that productive for that long of a run this season.

"We're just going out and playing good baseball," DiFelice said. "We're in the ballgames and we're going to fight for all nine innings and hopefully we're going to win more than we lose.

"That's a good sign. The guys we have in this clubhouse are not laying down, they're not throwing the season away. They're going out there and trying to play baseball for nine innings that day, and that's good to see."

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