One bad inning costs pitcher Ryan Rupe his chance at the record for consecutive wins.
By BRUCE LOWITT
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 28, 2000
BALTIMORE -- It all unraveled for Ryan Rupe in 17 pitches -- the fifth inning, his winning streak, the game. And the Devil Rays succumbed Sunday to a pitcher who barely seven weeks ago was near the bottom of the minor leagues.
One swing gave the Rays their runs, an Aubrey Huff homer in the second inning, and Rupe made the 2-0 lead stand up for two more.
He pitched himself in and out of jams as the innings passed, most notably the third when he left the bases loaded and the fourth when the Orioles left runners on second and third.
But Brady Anderson singled to open the fifth inning, Melvin Mora homered into the stands in left, and the lead was gone. Two outs later, Chris Richard doubled, and so did Mike Kincade. The Orioles led 3-2. That's the way it ended.
"I was battling out there, battling well," Rupe said. "But when you throw some bad pitches, sooner or later they're going to catch up to them. Even to get out of the fifth inning was a struggle."
Rupe was gone after five. Gone, too, was his chance to break away from Wilson Alvarez and set a team record with his sixth consecutive win.
"It was a fun run; I wish it could have been longer," Rupe said. "But you keep fighting, man. I wanted my second half (of the season) to be a good one and so far it's been all right."
Tony Fiore, called up from Durham to replace injured Tanyon Sturtze on the roster, made his major-league debut with three innings of two-hit relief. "He came in," manager Larry Rothschild said, "shut it down, kept us in the game and we had a chance to win it because of that."
Particularly in the ninth inning.
With Ryan Kohlmeier in relief of Jay Spurgeon, making his first major-league start, Steve Cox singled to centerfield. Huff looped a single over shortstop. Rothschild sent in pinch-runners as each got on base. It was, it seemed, a sacrifice situation. The managerial wheels began whirring.
John Flaherty was up. Kohlmeier had ended Friday night's game by striking him out with the bases loaded. The first and third basemen rushed toward the plate as Flaherty faked the bunt, then swung away.
"We should have gotten (Kohlmeier)," Rothschild said. "Flash did what he was supposed to do. First and second and they have the charge play on and he swings and hits a line drive to rightfield. That's just bad luck right there. If he hits the ball on the ground we've got a better chance. ... With the charge play on, everybody's all over the place. If he bunts into that defense it's going to be a double play."
Anderson caught the liner. The runners held. "That's the out that can change the inning," Rothschild said.
Pinch-hitter Miguel Cairo flied to short rightfield and Kohlmeier slipped a game-ending third strike past Gerald Williams, who wheeled and pleadingly protested the call. Said Rothschild: "That last pitch was not a strike; I don't care what anybody says."
Spurgeon, 24, who shot up through the minors to the Orioles two weeks ago, kept the Rays off balance for most of his seven innings. Huff's homer was on a knee-high fastball, Spurgeon's only costly mistake. "We were giving him a lot," Huff said, "swinging at everything he was throwing up there, a lot of his off-speed stuff."
Rupe started the season 0-4, earning a two-month demotion to Triple-A Durham. Before Sunday, he had not lost since his recall.
"You have to be able to limit the damage and really stop the bleeding," Rothschild said, a reference to Rupe's earlier propensity to fall apart in an inning and give up a lot of runs. "He was letting everything roll over on him and trying harder and harder and getting deeper into the counts and getting into hitters' counts. But he's been better at it lately."
Which explained Rupe saying: "I don't mind three-run innings. If you're throwing zeros up there (as he did in the first four), then throw a three-spot, that's a contained inning. ...
"Above three, you're giving them a lot. But three is not the end of the world. You still keep your team in the game. I did that through five, kept them in as long as I could, especially for a bullpen that's been tired these past two days."