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Kennedy is masterful through pain

Rookie goes six strong after having ankle taped as Rays improve to 6-1 vs. Twins.

photo
[AP photo]
Joe Kennedy delivers in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins.
By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 20, 2001


MINNEAPOLIS -- They walked single-file into the clubhouse, passing their hats to a Rays equipment manager to be packed for the plane ride home.

Joe Kennedy was waiting for his teammates just beyond the threshold.

"Good job, Joe," one said.

"Atta boy, Joe," another added.

Knowing the uncertainty surrounding Kennedy's status before Sunday's game against the Twins -- how close he was to not jogging to the mound in the first inning -- teammates and coaches lauded the rookie pitcher after his six-inning performance during the Rays' 5-1 win at the Metrodome.

"Today he had it all working," manager Hal McRae said.

Kennedy, who entered with an American League-leading seven-game losing streak, struck out a career-high seven and allowed one run on three hits.

His first victory since July 3 also was the Rays' sixth in seven games against the Twins this season.

"I'm glad it's over," Kennedy said of the streak. "I was watching SportsCenter for the first time in probably a month and a half last night, and they were talking about (Yankees pitcher) Ted Lilly and how bad he was throwing, and I was on top of him, being the worst in the AL since the All-Star break.

"So it's just good to get back out there and get a win for this team and myself."

Kennedy (4-8) almost didn't get out there at all.

A pinching in his left ankle surfaced during pregame warmups and set off a harried chain of events that left the Rays figuring on Bobby Seay starting the game attended by 35,287.

Moments before the Twins' Eric Milton threw the first pitch of the game at 1:07 p.m., McRae and head trainer Jamie Reed were called to the bullpen to decide whether Kennedy would start.

"The guys on the team thought I was just messing around with it and have an excuse, calling it the 0-7 ankle," Kennedy said, referring to his losing streak. "It was just a little sharp pain in there, and it was hard to stand up for a little while."

After getting his ankle taped and reassuring the coaching staff he was fit to pitch, Kennedy took the mound and performed marvelously.

"We're going to have all the guys get taped up before they go out there," McRae said, joking. "It had to be the tape."

Kennedy's fastball hovered around 93 mph and was complemented by an 85 mph changeup. But it was his curveball that buckled hitters' knees and led to so many strikeouts.

After the game, Reed said the problem probably was a mildly sprained ankle. Kennedy had a perfect game through 22/3 innings before walking catcher Tom Prince and a no-hitter until Doug Mientkiewicz singled with one out in the fourth. He retired 16 of the first 18 batters.

"This helps his confidence," McRae said. "I hope he didn't know anything about the losing streak. I knew he hadn't won in a while, but I don't keep track of the numbers.

"I really don't think it's very important to him. I think it's most important to him that he pitches well. He pitched well today."

And Kennedy, who had a 7.06 ERA in road games before Sunday, got the run support he needed.

The Rays scored all they would need in the first inning thanks to a two-run single by Toby Hall off Milton (11-5). Second baseman Felix Martinez added a home run in the second, and Greg Vaughn and Jared Sandberg contributed run-scoring singles.

Tampa Bay has derailed the Twins' attempt to make the playoffs by going 6-1 against Minnesota in 10 days. The Twins dropped out of first place in the AL Central after being swept in four games at Tropicana Field Aug. 10-13.

Rays starters went 5-1 with a 2.01 ERA against the Twins.

"We're playing good baseball right now," Kennedy said. "We're playing like a team. The clubhouse is happy. We're all playing together.

"We're just going out there trying to spoil the fun for the teams going to the playoffs. That's the only thing we can do right now, so that's what we're trying to do."

The Rays' third road series win this season marked their best run against a team since they won eight of 10 from the Royals in 1999.

"We're building for the future and we come out here every day and play the way we're capable of playing," Hall said. "It just goes to show you what kind of future this team has."

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