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Fickle Rays fall back again, 6-2

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 14, 2001


MONTREAL -- So which team shows up today?

The Rays squad that opened the second half with bang Thursday, scoring an easy victory against Montreal and talking excitedly and optimistically about the final 12 weeks of the season? Or the group that followed up with a dreary and familiar performance on Friday night, losing 6-2 to the Expos in a mistake-laced game that wasn't that close?

"It's disappointing," catcher Mike DiFelice said. "We had a real nice game (Thursday) 10-0 and it would have been nice to come out and put a couple nice games together. But it wasn't our night. Their pitcher answered a call. He gave them eight strong innings.

"A couple errors were made, a couple runs were given away today. It would have been nice to put together two wins. Now we have to come back (today) and see if we can win the series."

All that went right Thursday went askew Friday before an announced 4,277, the Expos' second-lowest crowd of the season. (They drew 4,186 on May 22 against the Mets.)

Defensive miscues led directly to two Montreal runs. Pitcher Joe Kennedy paid dearly for his mistakes, giving up three home runs, two in the first inning. And the Rays couldn't do much of anything against Montreal starter Javier Vazquez, managing four hits and eight balls out of the infield, though one was Fred McGriff's 433rd home run.

"He pitched extremely well," Rays manager Hal McRae said of the Montreal ace. "It boiled down to one-swing at-bats for us because we didn't see him very well. He did an outstanding job."

McRae is usually straightforward in assessing blame, but he said the Rays mistakes in the field -- a misplay by rightfielder Ben Grieve, a missed ground ball by McGriff, an errant throw by DiFelice, a wild pitch by Kennedy, a club record-tying four stolen bases allowed -- were not the primary reasons for the defeat.

"Basically what happened is that we didn't score enough runs to win the game," he said. It was the 36th time the Rays have scored less than four runs in a game; they are 1-35.

Vazquez mixed his fastball, changeup and curve, and he did it well. "It was the first time most of us had ever seen him," said Jason Tyner, who went hitless for the first time since June 28. "He threw all three pitches for strikes and you didn't know what to expect."

Kennedy, who dropped to 3-3 and saw his ERA rise to 4.63, didn't pitch that badly. The rookie left-hander said he made a few mistakes, it was unfortunate that they cost him.

He threw a fat fastball to No. 2 hitter Jose Vidro, and he hit it into the leftfield seats. Three pitches later, Montreal star Vladimir Guerrero drove a low fastball over the centerfield fence.

The Rays gave away another run in the third, but McGriff got them back in the game at 3-2 when, after fouling off a 3-0 pitch, he drove a full-count offering over the centerfield fence.

But DiFelice's error set up another run in the fifth, and Mark Smith followed Lee Stevens' sixth-inning leadoff walk with a home run to right.

"Three pitches they hit out of the ballpark," Kennedy said. "I can't really do anything about that. You try to stay away from it, but it happens sometimes."

McRae didn't sound too discouraged, preferring to attribute the loss to Vazquez's strong showing more than anything else.

The next step?

"To show some consistency in what we're doing," McRae said. "But a lot of credit has to go to the pitcher. Even if we'd have played a clean game, a crisp game, if we don't score but two runs the outcome is the same."

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