By BRANT JAMES
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 8, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- Travis Phelps isn't about to thankhome plate umpire Mark Barron for possibly missing a pitch, but he has to admit things worked out well for him.
With Mike Lowell on first and the Rays leading Florida 4-3 in the ninth Saturday, Phelps seemed to slip a 3-and-2 fastball past Derrek Lee's knee, but Barron ruled it a ball.
The win and his save in peril, Phelps changed tactics, and his four-seam fastball changed the course of the inning.
"I knew I had to bear down," he said. "I started coming in a little harder with my four-seamer. If I was going to miss, I was going to miss hard, and it made a difference. It got them off-balance and they had to start looking for the inside pitch, and that opened everything up."
Phelps fought back in the count to strike out Charles Johnson, a .290 hitter in the No. 7 spot. He induced a popup from Ryan Thompson, then overmatched John Mabry with a four-seamer for a game-ending strikeout.
CREEK ON FIRE: Doug Creek's setup job for Phelps was less dramatic but equally important. The left-hander was inserted to start the eighth against Eric Owens and left-hander Cliff Floyd, the snubbed All-Star candidate who entered batting .349 with 21 home runs. He also was overdue in the game at 0-for-3.
Creek struck out both, finishing Floyd with a slider that left the slugger lurching onto his front foot. On Friday, with a runner on first in the eighth and the Rays leading 4-3, Creek struck out Floyd with a fastball.
"Today I felt better about the breaking ball," Creek said. "Some people said it looked like the other night he was looking off-speed, and today he looked like he might have been thinking fastball. You try to keep them guessing."
POSITION SHIFT: Damian Rolls is scheduled to start today in leftfield in the next phase of manager Hal McRae's utilityman-in-training program.
"The time has come," McRae said. "He could be a real nice swingman to play some infield and outfield for you. I think he can play out there, but I don't know."
Rolls, who is fourth among American League rookies with a .275 average, has started 38 times at second and once at third.
STREAKS: Leftfielder Jason Tyner extended his career-high hitting streak to nine games with a 4-for-4 effort. He tied the club mark with three runs scored. Two more Rays extended hitting streaks: centerfielder Randy Winn (10 games) and rightfielder Steve Cox (a career-high tying seven games). ... Brent Abernathy's career-opening 10-game hit streak ended after an 0-for-3 day.
HURTS: Left-hander Wilson Alvarez long-tossed from 100 feet for 10 minutes Saturday and is expected to do the same Monday, trainer Jamie Reed said.
"He made a lot of improvement, but he's not quite ready to get back on the mound yet," Reed said.
Reed said Alvarez's latest setback was because of a strain to a muscle that produces the torque on his breaking pitches.
Reed said Alvarez, who is on the 60-day disabled list, likely won't throw off a mound again for two weeks.
Right-hander Juan Guzman, also on the 60-day DL, reported no discomfort after his 96-pitch rehab start for Double-A Orlando on Friday. He averaged 87-88 mph on his fastball, Reed said, and hit 89 once.
Reliever Esteban Yan, on the 15-day DL with right shoulder inflammation, started and pitched two innings for Orlando Saturday night, allowing a hit and striking out two and throwing 19 strikes in 26 pitches.
Outfielder Jose Guillen, on the 15-day DL with a sprained left knee, has resumed normal activity and should be ready for game play after the All-Star break, Reed said.
GOOD GUYS: Both of the Rays' nominees for the Sporting News' third annual "99 good guys in professional sports" made the list: Alvarez and former closer Roberto Hernandez.
MAJOR-LEAGUE RECORD, WORST ERA: 6.70, 1930 Philadelphia Phillies.
AL RECORD, WORST ERA: 6.38, 1996 Detroit Tigers.
CURRENT RAYS ERA: 5.64.
WHERE: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg.
TV/RADIO: Ch. 10; WFLA-AM 970; WLCC-AM 760 (Spanish).
TODAY'S PROMOTIONS: On Major League Baseball second annual Kids Day, youngsters will sing the national anthem and serve as honorary bat boy and bat girl. Children also can run the bases after the game.
INFO: Call 1-888-FAN-RAYS.
JOE KENNEDY: The rookie (3-1, 4.01 ERA) suffered his lone big-league defeat against the Marlins on June 17, failing to go five innings for the only time in a 6-4 loss. The 22-year-old has allowed three runs or fewer in five of his six starts and two runs or fewer in four of six.
RYAN DEMPSTER: The right-hander (9-8, 4.58) is 1-3 with a 7.54 ERA in four starts against the Rays, 0-2, 9.35 in two starts at the Trop. He pitched his second career shutout, the 25th in club history, 7-0 over Montreal on Tuesday. He is 3-1 with a 3.19 ERA in his past four starts.
Rays manager Hal McRae was reflecting on the upcoming All-Star Game when he was asked about the controversy smoldering in the opposing dugout. Last week, Marlins outfielder Cliff Floyd said he was told by National League skipper and Mets adversary Bobby Valentine he was on the squad, then was snubbed.
"No comment," McRae said, smiling. "We've lost, what, 60 games or whatever? I should just mind my own business."