By MIKE READLING
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 22, 2001
Jason Conti certainly has made his presence known since the Rays acquired him from Arizona on July 25 in the trade that sent Mike DiFelice and Albie Lopez to the Diamondbacks. But the Rays' Triple-A team, the Durham Bulls, were never more happy to have the 26-year-old outfielder than in the eighth inning Friday night.
Conti has provided the Bulls some much-needed offense -- he's hitting .293 with nine doubles and 10 RBI in 25 games -- but Friday it was his head that won the game and kept the Bulls in the heat of the International League's wild-card race.
With one out in the eighth, Conti stood at second base as Bobby Smith was hit by a pitch from Norfolk closer Grant Brittain, causing tensions to rise in a game tied at 6.
Ron Wright hit a grounder to third that the Tides tried to turn into a double play. Smith slid hard into second, taking out Norfolk second baseman John Tamargo and breaking up the double play. As both teams emptied onto the field, Conti kept running and scored.
That win left the Bulls 31/2 games behind Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for the final playoff spot, where they remained heading into Tuesday night's game. Durham has 13 games remaining, Scranton 14.
SPEAKING OF THE PLAYOFFS. . .: The Class A Bakersfield Blaze is making its play for the California League's final playoff spot, heading into Tuesday night's game with a 71/2-game lead over Visalia in the North Division standings with 14 games remaining.
BACK IN ACTION: Matt Diaz (wrist injury) returned to the Blaze lineup Monday, making his first start since Aug. 10, a span of eight games. Diaz, third in the California League with a .334 batting average and first with 157 hits, went 0-for-4.
MOVIN' ON UP: Proof that the Rays' minor-league system is developing its players well can be seen in some recent moves from Bakersfield to Double-A Orlando.
Andrew Beinbrink, Dan Grummitt, Chairon Isenia, Brandon Backe and Nathan Ruhl have made the jump and, for the most part, are thriving.
Grummitt is leading the O-Rays with 10 home runs despite playing only about two-thirds of the season in Orlando, and Beinbrink is one of the team's leaders with a .281 batting average in 113 games.
Backe is 1-0 in nine relief appearances, with six strikeouts in 112/3 innings. Ruhl is 3-2 with five saves and a 3.00 ERA in 26 games. He has struck out 46 in 45 innings.
BULLISH HONOR: Smith was named the International League's player of the week after hitting .625 in what turned out to be his best week of the year.
During the seven-game span, Smith homered once and had 14 RBI in becoming the fourth Durham player to win the honor this season. Through Monday he was hitting .298, with 19 home runs, 66 RBI, 21 doubles and 2 triples since being sent down 10 games into the Rays season.
RECENT ADDITION: Durham picked up right-handed pitcher Scott Davison from St. George of the independent Western League on Wednesday, bolstering its pitching staff and sending Jason Jimenez to Orlando.
Davison, 3-0 with a 3.25 ERA and eight saves in 28 games with the Pioneerz, is having a rough go of it in his first two stints with Durham. Entering Tuesday's games he had given up seven runs on nine hits in 31/3 innings, walking two and striking out three. His ERA stood at 18.90.