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Unsightly loss sums up Rays' half-season

A 6-1 loss to the Yanks in 81st game includes all the elements that have Tampa Bay on target for 114 losses.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 2, 2001


NEW YORK -- They played poor defense. They didn't hit when they needed to. And they didn't pitch well enough.

In other words, the Rays got to the halfway point of their season Sunday in fitting fashion, a 6-1 loss to the Yankees that sampled the shortcomings that produced 57 losses in their first 81 games.

"The first half wasn't pleasant," manager Hal McRae said. "Let's forget the first half. That was nothing to be proud of. We showed up and we played, and I think the players played hard, but we really didn't accomplish anything.

"At times, in spurts, we played better, but the results were not the desired results. I couldn't say that we accomplished a lot."

"We stunk," said Fred McGriff, the veteran first baseman in the midst of an All-Star season. "That's about it."

Greg Vaughn, on pace for a 40-homer season, said the first half was frustrating, "frustrating for everyone in here." He said he felt he could have done more, could "take the pressure off the other guys." He said he and his teammates need to be concerned solely with playing better baseball, need to "stop worrying about other things" such as missed calls.

But ultimately, he said he really didn't know what to say.

"I don't have any answers," Vaughn said. "Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong."

The Rays are halfway to 114 losses, which is actually an improvement from a few weeks ago, when they were on pace to threaten the 1962 New York Mets' infamous record of 120.

Having decided to accelerate their youth movement by carrying a major league-high seven rookies on the roster, the Rays know that they are going to struggle and that they, and their fans, have be to patient. But that doesn't make losing what amounts to five games out of every seven any easier.

"If we jell, we'll win more games, many more games, than we've won," McRae said. "And that hasn't happened. We can't seem to not score a lot of runs and win a game, or score a lot of runs and win a game when the pitchers don't pitch as well but we hit a little better than the opposition.

"Of the first half, that's probably a difference of six, seven ballgames, which is a 12-, 14-game swing, which is a lot of games. We could get better that way, but that doesn't improve the club enough. No. That's not going to get it done."

Usually the problems are obvious, starting on the mound and in the batter's box. The Rays have a staggering run differential of minus-192 (321 for, 513 against) and have given up at least eight runs 30 times and 10 or more 16 times. The bullpen has 15 losses. They've scored fewer than four runs 32 times and lost 31 of those games, including a league-high seven shutouts.

Sunday, the most troubling element was defense, though they didn't add to their league-high 70 errors.

The problems started early. Vaughn, whose offensive numbers are markedly better when he plays leftfield as opposed to designated hitter, misread, misjudged, misplayed and basically mangled a Derek Jeter liner into a leadoff double in the first.

The Yankees, who play the game properly, got Jeter in with a groundout and a sacrifice fly and had all they needed when Tino Martinez drove the worst of Tanyon Sturtze's 122 pitches over the rightfield fence, the career-high fourth straight game in which Martinez has homered.

A weak throw by Vaughn, who still has a sore shoulder, helped the Yankees to another one-hit run in the second, and a ground ball that bounced through the right side and off the glove of diving second baseman Brent Abernathy knocked in two runs in the third. ("That's not a hit from our standpoint," McRae said. "It's a hit in the newspaper and all, but it wasn't a hit.") Ben Grieve had an ugly play in rightfield in the fourth, turning a line drive into a double with a poor attempt at a sliding catch, though it didn't lead to a run.

"It's tough to win ballgames giving a good club extra outs, just basically giving them runs. Not an opportunity to score runs, but giving them runs," McRae said. "Sturtze pitched well. He's doing his job, and he's not getting the support that he expects. Naturally, it's going to be tough."

Even tougher when his teammates manage just six hits, five singles.

The second half of the schedule starts today, and the Rays would like to believe (or hope and pray) that things can only get better.

"We've just got to keep grinding, keep battling," Vaughn said.

What choice do they have?

Halfway there

Sunday was the Rays' 81st game, putting them at the halfway point of the season. If the second half went just like the first, this is how things would end up:

(Now, Could be)

Record 24-57,48-114

Road wins 10,20 (record low)

Team ERA 5.70,5.70 (record is 6.70)

1-run games 13,26 (record low)

Unearned runs allowed 68,146 (record is 152)

Run differential -192,-384 (record worst)

Errors 70,140

Wild pitches 49,98(record high)

Greg Vaughn 20 HRs/56 RBI,40/112

Fred McGriff .331 avg.,.331 (career high)

Albie Lopez 3-10,6-20 (first since 1980)

-- Source: Times research

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