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Rays remain calm with 5-4 win in 11

Marlins tie it with a 2-out homer in 9th, but Hal McRae knew it was Tampa Bay's game. Two innings later, it was.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 7, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
The Rays' Jason Tyner makes a leaping catch on Mike Lowell's sacrifice fly in the sixth inning.
ST. PETERSBURG -- Granted, it doesn't happen all that often, but Hal McRae had this feeling Friday night. Had it even though his Rays wasted an early three-run advantage, even though they blew a one-run lead with two outs in the ninth, even though they left the potential winning run in scoring position in the ninth inning and again in the 10th.

"I never thought we were going to lose that ballgame," McRae said. "I just felt we were going to win the game."

And in the 11th inning, they did, scoring a hard-fought 5-4 interleague victory over the Marlins before an announced 11,202 at the Trop. Greg Vaughn ripped a one-out double, and Russ Johnson scored him with a broken-bat single up the middle.

"There are days when you have that feeling," McRae said. "Why you have them, I don't know, but you need to have them. Things have been rough and there have to be days where you think somehow you're going to pull the thing out. And today was one of those days."

Until the heroics from Vaughn and Johnson, it looked as if it was going to be another one of those days.

The Rays had a 3-0 lead in the third, thanks to Vaughn's team-high 21st home run, but Tanyon Sturtze let it slip away, giving up a two-run homer to Kevin Millar in the fourth, and another run on a pair of singles and a sac fly in the sixth.

Then the Rays had a 4-3 lead with two outs in the ninth, thanks to a seventh-inning balk call on Florida starter A.J. Burnett, but Victor Zambrano couldn't close it, allowing a home run to Derrek Lee.

Then the Rays had the winning run on first with no outs in the ninth, and third with two outs, but couldn't get Jason Tyner home, Johnson striking out for the final out.

[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
The Rays' Felix Martinez made his first start at shortstop in a week and had his first multihit game since April 25.

And then the Rays had the winning run on second after Brent Abernathy's one-out double in the 10th, but Felix Martinez struck out and Tyner flied out.

"At this point, we're not too greedy," Vaughn said. "We'll just take them any way we can get them." Zambrano ended up working a season-high three innings to earn his first major-league win, and the obligatory beer shower, with an assist to Abernathy, the rookie second baseman who turned a key double play in the 11th and made several other sharp plays.

For Zambrano, the 25-year-old right-hander in his sixth major-league game, it was a telling night. He was one out from victory when he gave up the homer to Lee, and when he stood behind the mound for an extended period of time, McRae wasn't sure what to think.

"I almost went out, but I didn't," McRae said. "And I'm glad I didn't go out. I really didn't know what to do. I started. I stopped. I don't know why I stopped, but I stopped."

It took only three pitches for Zambrano to convince him he did the right thing. "Victor showed good stuff and good poise," McRae said. "He came back and buried Charles Johnson after the home run. He's a competitor. He make a mistake and he came back and got the next guy on three pitches."

Zambrano, who had 12 saves at Triple-A Durham, said he wasn't going to let the blown save, his second in two tries, deter him. "He hit a good fastball and got a home run," Zambrano said. "Lucky. Part of the game. It happens. I felt good. I knew I could throw more than one inning."

Vaughn started the winning rally with the same approach he uses for every at-bat: "I was just trying to hit the ball hard." He hit the Rickey Bones pitch so hard he had to hustle to get a double as it struck high off the left-centerfield wall.

Marlins manager Tony Perez had Bones walk Fred McGriff to pitch to Johnson, who was looking to redeem himself for striking out with Tyner on third in the ninth.

"I knew it was going to come down to me again," Johnson said. "It was either goat or hero right there."

The ball bounced through the middle, and when Vaughn slid across the plate, the blown leads and wasted opportunities hardly seemed to matter as the Rays celebrated just their second walk-off win of the rough season.

"We just kept playing," Vaughn said. "It's a good thing that we came back. Hopefully, eventually we'll be able to shut them down, where you don't have to keep coming back."

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