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Wilson stays in zone as Rays defeat Twins

Paul Wilson pitches well again and Tampa Bay holds on for 4-2 victory.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 11, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays have had plenty of bad-news stories this season. They also have had a few good ones.

Paul Wilson apparently is handling both ends of the spectrum.

As brutal as his mystifying decline was from front-of-the-rotation starter to bullpen mopup man, his return to prominence has been heartening.

Wilson continued his remarkable renaissance Friday, pitching six shutout innings to lead the Rays to a 4-2 victory over Minnesota before an announced Tropicana Field crowd of 20,112 that appeared half that size.

"I just like what I'm doing right now and I'm going to continue to do that," Wilson said. "I just hate to say, "I'm back.' Back from where? The Twilight Zone?"

Wilson's excellent outing was nearly eclipsed by another bullpen meltdown. Two dominant innings by Doug Creek got the game to the ninth, and Victor Zambrano got two quick outs.

But Zambrano, subbing for Thursday goat Esteban Yan, gave up a home run to David Ortiz. And gave up a double to Torii Hunter. And threw a wild pitch to advance Hunter to third. And gave up a single to Chad Allen.

It took a check-swing bouncer by Bobby Kielty, and a good play by second baseman Brent Abernathy, to preserve the win.

Chris Gomez sparked the offense with three hits, including his fourth homer in 14 games.

Since rejoining the rotation on July 25, Wilson is 3-0 with a 1.27 ERA in four starts, and has 13 consecutive scoreless innings. He became the first Ray to win three straight decisions since Tanyon Sturtze did last August.

"He's just been a better pitcher," manager Hal McRae said. "He's making his pitches and he's driving the ball in the strike zone. And everyone is pitching inside well."

Despite the relatively easy win over the Twins, who came into the game tied for AL Central lead, the Rays still had their usual contribution to the nightly blooper reel.

The mixup occurred in the second, with Toby Hall on third and Randy Winn on first. Minnesota first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz fielded Aubrey Huff's bouncer and ran at Hall, trapping him on the basepaths and forcing him back to third.

Winn, meanwhile, raced around to third and got there a moment before Hall got back. Third-base umpire Marty Foster called out Winn, following rule 7.03, which specifies that when two runners are on the same base, the "following" runner is out and the "preceding runner is entitled to the base."

That, apparently, was news to Hall, who strolled dejectedly off the base and was tagged out by Mientkiewicz, completing an odd unassisted double play.

The Rays, however, managed to find their way home that inning, tagging Bradenton Southeast High product Joe Mays for two runs.

Gomez started the rally with the first of his three hits, went to second on an infield out and scored when Abernathy lined a ball to left that skipped past Jacque Jones. Abernathy ended up on third after the error, and he scored on a sacrifice fly by Ben Grieve.

They added to their lead against Minnesota's All-Star right-hander. Rookie Jared Sandberg doubled down the leftfield line in the fourth and Gomez, in a 4-for-28 slump, drove him in. Gomez handled things himself in the sixth, driving Mays' pitch into the leftfield seats.

It was only the second homer the Rays hit in their past 12 games.

There also were some sharp defensive plays. Jason Tyner made a sliding catch to rob Mientkiewicz in the first. Abernathy made a couple of nice grabs at second. And Hall made two good maneuvers on a play to end the sixth when the Twins had men on first and third, throwing crisply to second, then taking the return throw from Gomez and hanging on as Denny Hocking came crashing into the plate.

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