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Sandberg audition begins with a bang

By MIKE READLING and MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 8, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Everything Jared Sandberg has had to overcome -- and that's not including the rush to catch a flight from Columbus, Ohio, to Tampa on Tuesday, the woman who woke him from a deep sleep to ask if he wanted a drink or the hour wait at the airport for a lightning storm to let up and allow him to get his luggage -- just made Tuesday night that much sweeter.

Sandberg overcame a back injury that caused him to miss almost half of last season, an initial demotion to Double-A Orlando and a nasty slump at Durham to make his major-league debut against the Yankees in style. The 23-year-old third baseman hit the second pitch he saw from Mike Mussina for a run-scoring single, giving the Rays a 2-0 lead in the second.

All this just hours after being promoted to fill the roster spot created when Steve Cox went on the disabled list with a sprained back.

"I have a big headache," Sandberg said. "What I remember of today has been great. It's been a long day."

Sandberg is expected to shore up the infield while Cox is out and allow the Rays to evaluate him in a regular-season situation.

"I want to get a look at him and see if he fits in," McRae said. "If he fits in now or if he fits in the future. This will give him the opportunity to show what he's all about."

TRADING UP: Whitney Johnson and WDAE-AM 620 sponsored Rays conversion night, allowing fans to trade in Yankees hats and jerseys for Rays gear. Seventy-five Yankees hats and shirts were collected and will be sent to a Boys and Girls Club in New York City.

BACK PROBLEMS: Cox was disabled with what trainer Jamie Reed called a lower back sprain. He was hurt Sunday jumping for a ball and took himself out of the lineup Monday with soreness.

Team orthopedic physician Koco Eaton examined Cox Tuesday, and the first baseman was scheduled to meet with team back specialist Tom Tolli this morning.

The injury isn't serious, but Reed said Cox probably would miss the next couple of series.

INJURY REPORT: Bryan Rekar, disabled since July 20 with shoulder tendinitis, is making "good progress," Reed said, and should make his first rehab start this week. He will need at least two starts before rejoining the team.

Wilson Alvarez will make his second start for Double-A Orlando tonight since recovering from a strained muscle in his forearm. In his last outing Alvarez averaged about 88 mph, where he was before the injury.

Juan Guzman started Tuesday night in Durham in what should be one of his final rehab starts after recovering from rotator cuff surgery.

HOMECOMING: One Yankee who looked out of place in the visitors clubhouse was outfielder Gerald Williams. Williams was released by Tampa Bay on June 25 after spending more than a year with the Rays and signed with New York on June 29. Tuesday was his first trip to the Trop as a visitor.

"It's nice to be back," Williams said. "New York is outstanding. It always has been."

STRIKE OUT CANCER: Erin Hamilton brought her "Strike Out Cancer" Ballpark Tour to Tropicana Field, the ninth stop of a 36-game tour in which she will visit every major-league ballpark and three minor-league stadiums. Hamilton is raising money for the Jimmy Fund, which supports the fight against cancer, a disease that claimed both of Hamilton's parents.

Tonight: Rays vs. Yankees, 7:15

WHERE: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg.

TV/RADIO: FSN; WFLA-AM 970, WLCC-AM (Spanish).

TICKETS: Available at Ticketmaster locations, Tropicana Field box office and Rays Dugout stores at WestShore Plaza, Brandon TownCenter and BayWalk.

TODAY'S PROMOTIONS: Web site Wednesday -- Specials are posted on the team's official Web site (www.devilrays.com). Anna Hansen, the 2001 bubble blowing champion, will take on players and coaches before the game. Several Rays will visit the Boys and Girls Club of the Suncoast from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Jasmine Court site (2936 Tanglewood Drive in Clearwater).

The pitchers

NICK BIERBRODT: Bierbrodt (0-1, 3.75) makes his third start for Tampa Bay and first at home since being acquired from Arizona on July 25. All five runs he has allowed have come via home run, including two-run homers to Jose Canseco and Paul Konerko in his last outing.

ANDY PETTITTE: Pettitte (12-6, 3.38) has won his past three starts and has walked four in seven games (44 innings) since being reinstated from the disabled list July 1. Opponents are batting .269 against him. Lifetime against Tampa Bay, Pettitte is 5-1 with a 4.05 ERA.

They said it

Just when you thought the Rays couldn't possibly get younger, they call up Nick Porterfield, a batboy with Triple-A Durham. Okay, he wasn't really called up: Porterfield was in the Rays clubhouse before Tuesday's game as a guest of catcher Toby Hall. Seeing as it was Porterfield's first major-league game, you might think the youngster was a little nervous. Not him. After all, he has worked with most of the Rays at one time or another, including the 12 who spent some time at Durham this season.

"It's cool," Porterfield said. "I know more than half the guys in here right now."

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