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Rays regain stride in a 9-4 win over Twins

Tanyon Sturtze leads Tampa Bay to its fifth straight victory in the past week over fast-falling Minnesota.

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 18, 2001


MINNEAPOLIS -- Take the Rays out of the Bronx, throw them in a dome against the Twins and suddenly they make you believe in the future again -- instead of dreading it.

One day after the Yankees finished devouring Rays pitching for 27 runs in a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium, Tampa Bay beat the Twins 9-4 before 18,079 at the Metrodome for the fifth straight win over Minnesota in a week.

"We came out here tonight and the balls fell in and the pitching did well, we played good defense and everything clicked," third baseman Russ Johnson said.

So what is it about the Twins, who are now closer to third place than first in the American League Central after eight straight losses, that brings out the best in the majors' worst?

Draw your own conclusions. The Rays aren't divulging any secrets.

"Nah, nah, nah," manager Hal McRae said, "I ain't gonna go there."

Tampa Bay took the confidence of a convincing four-game sweep of the Twins to New York this week only to see it implode before their eyes against the Yankees.

"I think some of the guys were a little bit down after New York but we knew we were coming here," said Tanyon Sturtze, who was solid in his second victory against the Twins in a week. "We knew we played well against these guys at home and it's a good matchup for us."

It's a better matchup for the Rays not only because the Twins are reeling, but because they don't have the power hitters, pitching staff and experience the Yankees do.

"They're a young team so they don't intimidate us," rightfielder Ben Grieve said. "But I don't think that's really a reason why. When you play the Yankees, the names intimidate you. The names on (Minnesota's) team don't really intimidate, but they're obviously having good years over there."

But years that are going bad in a hurry.

Minnesota has lost 11 of its past 12 and is 9-26 since the All-Star break. The Rays, meanwhile, have outscored the Twins 26-13 in the past five games and are 13-13 since July 21.

Sturtze has been part of the reason why.

The right-hander (8-9) threw 116 pitches in seven solid innings, allowing one run on four hits. He lasted 62/3 innings and gave up two runs in a no-decision Sunday at Tropicana Field.

"I'm more comfortable," Sturtze said. "I feel like I'm getting to be an established starter in this league. I think things are going well for me."

Rays starters are 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA in 322/3 innings against the Twins this season.

With six runs in the first three innings, Tampa Bay forced Twins starter Rick Reed (1-2) out of the game after 2 1/3 innings and 56 pitches.

Johnson, who finished 3-for-5 with three RBI, hit a run-scoring single in the second, and Reed would give up five more runs in the third.

Second baseman Brent Abernathy led off the third inning with a double, Grieve walked and centerfielder Randy Winn was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out.

First baseman Aubrey Huff then singled to score Abernathy, and Johnson followed with a two-run single. Shortstop Chris Gomez was hit by a pitch and catcher John Flaherty hit a ground-rule double to score Huff and Johnson, making it 6-0.

Reed was relieved by Hector Carrasco after Flaherty's double. Carrasco got the final two outs of the inning.

Sturtze, meanwhile, didn't allow a hit until Cristian Guzman singled with one out in the third and didn't give up a run until the fifth.

Tampa Bay added three more runs in the eighth and reliever Travis Phelps, who came on in that inning, allowed three runs in the final two innings. The Twins loaded the bases with one out in the ninth but scored only one run.

"They're playing a lot better than we are," McRae said. "We have (42) wins and they have 65 or whatever they got. They're playing better than we are. I'd take that record."

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