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8-4 win sparks Rays of hope

Up-and-down victory over Orioles boosts spirits for Tampa Bay, which quietly has had a winning month.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 22, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
The Rays' Chris Gomez celebrates his 7th-inning, three-run homer with Brent Abernathy in front of the dugout. It was his sixth homer in 77 at-bats.
ST. PETERSBURG -- The three-day series is being promoted as a tribute to Cal Ripken.

But the Rays have some showing off of their own to do.

The youngest team in the majors opened its longest homestand of the season Tuesday with a scrappy 8-4 win over Ripken's Orioles, extending what has been their most impressive run.

The Rays are 7-4 in their past 11 games, 15-14 since July 21 and 18-20 since the All-Star break. Not bad for a team that went 27-61 in the first half and had been on pace to challenge the 1962 Mets' record of 120 losses.

The Rays (45-81) are close to shedding the label of worst team in the majors by catching Pittsburgh (46-78), and talking quietly about the possibility of finishing the second half with a .500 record.

"I like that mark because when you hit that mark you have a chance to win each night. You're 50-50 when you come to the ballpark, and that gives you a chance and that's what's so important about it," manager Hal McRae said.

"We like to think we have a chance, but that's proof that we have a chance. You can feel things and you can say things and you want to believe things, but it's what you actually do in the end that's going to determine where you are and what you accomplish and eventually how you're going to feel deep down inside. Not what you say, but how you actually feel. That's why it's such an important mark for me."

It is no secret the Rays have gotten better as they've gotten younger. The infusion of talent and enthusiasm has been a big part of their current success, and could be even more significant in their future.

"Everyone kind of looks at the overall picture, that we're having a bad season," veteran reliever Doug Creek said. "But with the core of guys we have here and how we've been playing, if it's any forecast of things to come the rest of this season and next year, things are looking pretty good."

Tuesday's win, before an announced 13,247 at Tropicana Field, was the result of a combined effort.

The game was back-and-forth until the sixth when Greg Vaughn, who has been in a miserable slump, drove in what became the winning run with a two-out double.

photo
[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Cal Ripken gets a standing ovation before his first at-bat.
Some crafty work by rookie Travis Phelps and Creek in relief of inconsistent starter Paul Wilson stymied the Orioles in the seventh, and the Rays put the game out of reach with a three-run homer by Chris Gomez, who has hit six in 24 games.

"We played good enough to win," McRae said. "We didn't play a perfect game by any means, but we did the things necessary to win. I think that's important."

The game didn't start particularly well, with the Rays getting just two runs after loading the bases with none out in the first.

From there it seemed to be a scoring contest. The O's went up 3-2 on Tony Batista's home run, the Rays tied it at 3 on a Brent Abernathy single, the O's went up 4-3 on Larry Bigbie's home run, the Rays tied it at 4 on Randy Winn's sixth homer of the season.

The winning rally started when Jason Tyner sliced a double just inside the third-base line in the sixth. With two out, Vaughn, who was in a 3-for-30 funk, doubled to left.

"That one felt good," Vaughn said. "I've been out there battling every day and it felt good to contribute because it's been rough of late."

A throwing error by Gomez and an errant throw by catcher Toby Hall on what was ball four to Larry Bigbie put Orioles on first and third with none out in the seventh, but Phelps got a huge out by striking out David Segui.

Phelps then walked Jeff Conine to load the bases, but Creek came to his rescue, getting left-hander Chris Richard to bounce into an inning-ending double play.

"I'm looking to get a double play there, and it worked out," Creek said. "It turned out to be a big couple outs there."

Lately a lot of things have been working out for the Rays.

"It's exciting," Vaughn said. "The pitchers are doing an outstanding job, we're running, we're going first to third, we're stealing bases, the young guys are making plays. To me, it's a lot more fun playing baseball right now."

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