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Mighty M's no match for Rays

Tampa Bay romps on all-around effort typical of Seattle.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 29, 2001

[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Travis Phelps gets a high-five from Brent Abernathy after pitching a perfect ninth.
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays aspire to be like the Mariners, admiring not only what they have accomplished in assembling the best record in the majors, but how they have done so.

Tuesday night, for one night anyway, the Rays actually played more like the Mariners than the Mariners, combining a stellar seven-inning start by Paul Wilson, perfect relief work and an opportunistic offense for an impressive 6-0 victory.

"Obviously they're a great team, and to go out there and not only compete against the best, which we've been doing, but to actually win a game against the best that's out there, it means a lot," Brent Abernathy said.

"It's a lot of fun," Jason Tyner said. "We know we're playing the best team in the league and we came to play today. We played great, Paul pitched unbelievably, we played good defense and we swung the bats.

"We know where we have to go, and the Mariners are where we want to be. The consistency they have is something that we don't have. Hopefully we can take a lot out of this series from the way they play and use that to get better."

The Rays probably could learn some things from the Mariners, who have been the class of the majors all season, relying on a team concept and fundamentally sound play to post a dazzling 94-38 record,

"We play a similar game," Rays manager Hal McRae said. "We just don't have the same ammo."

They have been doing pretty well with what they have. The Rays are 48-84 overall but 21-23 since the All-Star break, 18-17 since July 21 and 13-13 in August. They've won 11 of their past 16 home games and 12 of 22 against first-place teams. (Though with two more losses, or two more Yankees wins, or a combination of one each, they will be officially eliminated from the AL East race.)

"Our scouts told us they've been playing with more enthusiasm and playing hard, and we saw a lot of that tonight," said Mariners manager Lou Piniella, whose 58th birthday was dampened by the loss.

The key to Tuesday's win was Wilson, who was dominant through a season-high seven innings, allowing six singles and striking out seven. His performance was especially encouraging as he had followed four good starts with two mediocre outings.

"He's hard to figure, but this is as good as I've seen him," McRae said. "For my benefit that was important because I've seen a lot of ups and downs. Tonight was very impressive. When I thought he'd pitched well was not close to what he did tonight."

Wilson, who notched his career-high sixth win, had control and command, throwing whichever pitch he chose wherever he wanted it to go. "It was fun," he said.

With two perfect innings from relievers Doug Creek and Travis Phelps, the Rays dealt the highest-scoring team in the majors its third shutout. The others were by Pedro Martinez and Mike Mussina.

While Wilson held the Mariners down and defense was strong behind him, the offense came in spurts against Joel Pineiro, Seattle's rookie right-hander. Pineiro had given up six hits to right-handed batters in his first 10 games; the Rays got six in 51/3 innings, three by Toby Hall, who knocked in two runs. Randy Winn drove in two and so did Chris Gomez, one on a bases-loaded walk and the other on an inside-the-park home run.

"That was a big win right there," Hall said.

"We feel good about the way we played tonight and the way we've played over the last three weeks to a month, but it's a daily grind," McRae said. "We have to come back tomorrow and try to win another ballgame."

While beating the Mariners on Tuesday was one thing, beating them again tonight would really be something.

The Mariners, beaten Sunday by Cleveland, have not had a three-game losing streak all season. And they have not lost a series away from home since last August, a major-league record-tying 26 straight road series wins.

Their confidence growing daily, the young Rays feel like they have a chance, as they do each game now.

"We don't look at it like, "Oh, gosh, the Mariners are in town' or "the Yankees are in town,' " Hall said. "If we play the way we're capable of playing in every aspect, we're a good team. The record makes it seem like we're not, but we're trying to turn that around."

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