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Tyner rescues Rays

The leftfielder's sliding catch in the ninth inning ends the game with the tying run heading home in a 5-4 win over the Orioles.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 1, 2001


BALTIMORE -- There is an S next to Esteban Yan's name in the box score because he was officially awarded the save in Tuesday's 5-4 win over Baltimore.

But it is leftfielder Jason Tyner who should get the credit, because it was his sliding catch with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the tying run rounding third that preserved the victory.

"He got the save," Yan said.

It didn't seem that it would come down to such heroics, not when the Rays jumped to a 4-0 advantage by the fourth with another solid outing from rejuvenated starter Paul Wilson, not when they put a 5-3 lead into the hands of their recently effective bullpen crew, and certainly not when Yan set about protecting the one-run margin by getting two quick outs to open the ninth.

But Yan, who blew a save Saturday, suddenly got in trouble again, giving up a single to Tony Batista and walking pinch-hitter Larry Bigbie in a tense nine-pitch at-bat. Yan then got to a 2-and-2 count on Jerry Hairston, and the Baltimore second baseman hit a soft liner to left.

"It scared me at first," Tyner said. "I thought, "Oh, no, that ball's in there.' "

Because Hairston didn't hit it solidly, the ball hung in the warm air, just enough for Tyner to make the sliding catch, the first that saved a game since he was in Double A in 1999.

"Sometimes someone has to make a good play, and that was a good play," Rays manager Hal McRae said. "It won the ballgame for us."

McRae pulled Wilson after five innings and 66 pitches, deciding that he'd seen enough of him ("I thought that was all he could handle," McRae said) and that he wanted to see more of a relief staff that has been impressive of late, allowing 12 earned runs over its past 541/3 innings.

"They're damn good," Wilson said.

McRae got 12/3 innings out of Travis Phelps, who allowed a homer to Hairston in the seventh. He got three important outs from Doug Creek. And he got some rumblings in his stomach as Yan turned what looked like an easy save into a nerve-wracking one.

"We don't win very often, so I'll take the win, any kind of win," McRae said. "I'm not spoiled yet. I don't mind getting nervous and winning. I've gotten nervous and lost quite a bit."

The win gave the Rays an 11-15 record in July, their best of any month this season, and an 8-10 record since the All-Star break.

It also marked the second straight victory for Wilson since he returned to the rotation. After going 2-7 with an 8.43 ERA in 12 starts and spending nearly two months in the bullpen, Wilson is 2-0 and has allowed three runs and eight hits in 10 innings with eight strikeouts and no walks.

"It's something I wish I was doing earlier in the year," Wilson said. "If I was doing that at the beginning of the year, we might not be in the situation we are."

Wilson said there was a specific sequence Tuesday that highlighted the difference between what he did in the past and what he is doing now.

Cruising into the fourth with a 4-0 lead, he gave up a one-out home run to Chris Richard. In rapid succession, Jeff Conine singled, Jay Gibbons doubled and Cal Ripken, continuing his enchanting farewell tour and extending his hitting streak to 11 games, rapped a two-run single up the middle, cutting the lead to 4-3. A throwing error by third baseman Aubrey Huff created the possibility for more trouble, but Wilson got Fernando Lunar to ground into an inning-ending double play.

"The difference was that he hit the home run and I got p----- off and overthrew a couple pitches, but then I settled down and got the double play ball," Wilson said.

Most of the offense came from the middle of the revamped order. New cleanup hitter Steve Cox scored once and knocked in another. Toby Hall, who McRae moved into the fifth spot on what could be a permanent basis, had a key double. Ben Grieve, who has 10 RBI in his past six games after totalling 10 in his previous 31, knocked in two after being moved from the second slot back to a more standard sixth.

"Any time the middle of the order is producing runs it's a major plus, because that's what it takes to play consistent ball and to put runs on the board on a consistent basis," McRae said.

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