By JOHN ROMANO
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000
TORONTO -- Umpire Mike Van Vleet warned Rick White about throwing a pitch inside to Tony Batista. Somebody should have warned him about throwing a pitch right down the middle to Batista.
The Devil Rays completed their usual road disaster in Toronto on Thursday night with Batista hitting a tie-breaking homer off White with two outs in the eighth for a 6-5 Blue Jays victory.
The loss was even worse than it sounds. Not only did White give up the game-winner in the eighth, but Jim Mecir gave up the tying run in the seventh. It was a complete waste of a rally against Toronto ace David Wells in the fifth.
"We came back against Wells, which isn't easy to do, and the momentum shifts to our side," Jose Canseco said. "Then we let it slip through our fingers."
This is nothing new for the Rays at SkyDome. Counting this two-game sweep, they are 2-13 in Toronto. But, even for them, Thursday night's loss was stretching their patience.
White was brought in with two outs and nobody on in the eighth, specifically to face Batista. His first pitch, a slider, slipped out of his hand and sent Batista ducking away.
Mindful that Kelvim Escobar had thrown a purpose pitch the night before and that Rays third baseman Vinny Castilla had been hit earlier Thursday, Van Vleet warned both benches about inside pitches.
He need not have bothered. White threw a 91 mph fastball that Batista whacked into the second deck inside the foul pole in left.
"It was a fastball right down the middle. It was supposed to be away from him," White said. "I just wasn't thinking out there. I didn't get the job done and I paid the price."
Left-hander Doug Creek retired the first two hitters before manager Larry Rothschild brought in the right-handed White to face Batista. Although Batista hits right-handed, he has a higher career average against right-handed pitchers (.276) than left-handers (.263).
"White has done a good job for us," Rothschild said. "I know (Batista) has had a little trouble against left-handers, but I'm still going to make him face the right-hander."
White got the loss, but Mecir shared in the blame.
An inning earlier Mecir had been given a 5-3 lead with one out and a runner on second. Three batters later, the score was tied.
Mecir has given up five runs in his past three outings. Before that, he had given up four runs in 21 appearances.
"I'm just a little off right now. I'm not throwing the ball where I want it to go," Mecir said. "Larry and I have talked about it. We'll look at some tapes and see if we can figure it out."
Not that the bullpen was entirely at fault. Tampa Bay's offense did a fine job of coming from behind against Wells, scoring four in the fifth. And then it took the rest of the night off.
The Rays went hitless in the final four innings, a departure from the night before when they were hitless in the final five innings.
When they put runners on with walks, they quickly got them back in the dugout. The Rays hit into double plays in the seventh and eighth on Wednesday. They encored Thursday with another double play in the eighth.
Even in the four-run fifth, the Rays left a little to be desired. Tampa Bay put seven straight hitters on base but did not get an extra-base hit. Fred McGriff, who has 11 RBI in six at-bats with the bases loaded this year, drove in two runs with a single. The other runs scored when Greg Vaughn got a bases-loaded walk and Vinny Castilla was hit with a pitch with the bases loaded.
The rally was snuffed out when Bubba Trammell struck out on a high pitch from reliever John Frascatore and John Flaherty flew out.
"We had a chance to get more," Rothschild said. "After (John) Frascatore hits Vinny, he was still wild. Bubba just took some bad swings. Chased some pitches. But, you know, he's trying to drive in the runs."
At this time a month ago, the Rays were making a run at respectability. They had won 12 of 18 and were within 12 games of .500. Since then, they have lost 16 of 25 and are a season-low 19 games under .500.