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Flaherty takes care not to cross line

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000


TORONTO -- Before the game began, umpire Ronald Kulpa told Rays catcher John Flaherty he would be ejected if he crossed the line.

He was referring to the chalk line in the catcher's box.

Kulpa told Flaherty on Wednesday night that a memo had been issued from the league office directing umpires to enforce the boundaries of the catcher's box. Kulpa told Flaherty he would be warned one time if he set up outside the box and would be ejected if it happened a second time.

"It was the most uncomfortable night I've ever spent catching," Flaherty said. "I spent the whole night worrying where my feet were. I was trying to feel my way around back there and (Kulpa) would tell me, "You're okay there, you're all right.' That's no way to go through a game."

This became an issue after teams complained the Braves were expanding the box. The theory was that the catchers set up outside the strike zone and when a pitch hit their glove, the umpire would call it a strike.

Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild talked to Kulpa between innings Wednesday to get a clarification of the ruling.

Kulpa ejected Boston star Carl Everett for arguing about the boundaries of the batter's box last week, leading to a nasty exchange that resulted in Everett's 10-game suspension Thursday. Flaherty said Kulpa told him he had no desire to make a big issue of the catcher's box, but was trying to follow the league's orders.

HERE WE GO AGAIN: The Yankees reportedly have renewed interest in acquiring Rays designated hitter Jose Canseco. New York seeks a leftfielder and would like Montreal's Rondell White, but is balking at the asking price of Alfonso Soriano and a minor league pitcher.

The New York Post reported today that acquiring Canseco would be one contingency plan for the Yankees. Canseco was supposedly high on New York's list in late May before he went on the disabled list.

AT LEAST THERE WERE NO KNICKERS: Wearing a crisp white shirt and tailored suit, Canseco was the essence of style Thursday afternoon. But the Nike golf shoes were a different look for him.

Still battling a left heel injury, Canseco said the golf shoes were the most comfortable things he could wear. Canseco has a foam cushion device to take pressure off his heel, but it does not fit in his dress shoes. So he wore the golf shoes.

"Whatever it takes, I'm willing to do it," Canseco said.

ON HIS WAY: Tony Saunders threw a five-inning simulated game and likely will make his first minor league rehab appearance during the first week of August. General manager Chuck LaMar said he expects to see Saunders pitching for the Rays in September.

Saunders has been anxious to pitch in minor league games, but holding him back another 10-14 days will serve two purposes.

No. 1, it is a more cautious approach for a pitcher coming back from a broken arm. No. 2, he is only allowed 30 days on a medical rehab. If he begins pitching in the minors in July, he would have to be activated after 30 days, and the Rays would have to make room for him on the roster. By waiting, they can delay his activation until Sept.1 when rosters are expanded.

Saunders was throwing in the mid-80s during the simulated game. He threw 88-91 before his broken arm.

"His velocity is way up from when he first started throwing," said infielder Russ Johnson, a hitter in the simulated game. "He has enough arm strength to locate the ball where he wants and that takes as much strength as having high velocity."

Saunders will throw another simulated game next week in Detroit.

WHAT'S UP, DOC? Eight weeks after being released by the Rays, Dwight Gooden will face his old teammates tonight at Yankee Stadium. In two appearances for the Yankees, Gooden is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in 10 1/3 innings.

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