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After loss, McRae pleads for better pitching

Nick Bierbrodt and Rays relievers are shelled by the A's 10-4, the third straight poor outing by a starter.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 9, 2001


OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Rays know the A's are good. And they just have to look at the standings and the box scores of the games they've played against them to be reminded.

But what galled manager Hal McRae after the latest loss, 10-4 on Saturday, was how the his pitchers acted almost as if the A's were too good and refused to challenge them.

"We're not pitching as well as we're capable of pitching," McRae said. "We can't be intimidated by them, we have to work ahead and we can't be afraid to throw strikes, down strikes. Nothing good is going to happen if we don't work ahead. The last three-four games our pitch count has skyrocketed. We're throwing much too many pitches.

"That means we're not challenging the hitters, we're not going at the hitters, we're not pitching aggressively enough. And we have to do that, because it can't be done this way. It just doesn't work. It can't be done."

The numbers prove McRae's point. Wednesday in Seattle, starter Ryan Rupe made 80 pitches in 41/3 innings and the staff threw 168 total in an 8-3 loss (and don't forget, the winning home team only bats eight times). On Friday here, starter Bryan Rekar made 87 pitches in 42/3 innings and the staff threw 169 in a 9-3 loss. On Saturday, starter Nick Bierbrodt made 113 in 42/3 and the staff threw 158 overall.

McRae said it was time for the pitchers to get back to the basics -- "throw strikes, work ahead and keep the ball down" -- and he cut short his postgame interview session to summon the entire staff, some of whom were on their way to or from the shower and were wearing just towels, into his office to tell them exactly how he felt.

"When you work ahead, your tendency to make mistakes is not as great, and when you work ahead, the tendency to throw a pitch with conviction is more frequent as opposed to when you're working behind, generally the ball doesn't have the same stuff on it," McRae said.

"And when you throw a pitch without conviction, generally bad things happen to it. Whatever you want the ball to do, or whatever the intent was, it doesn't happen. You try to sink it, it flattens out. You try to throw a breaking ball, it hangs. You try to throw it over here, it's going to go over there. When you pitch tentatively, those things happen."

A number of bad things happened to the Rays on Saturday. The A's -- playing without star Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon -- hit four home runs for the second straight game. The Rays made two errors on the same pivotal fifth-inning play. And the Tampa Bay offense, after showing some life early against Oakland 18-game winner Mark Mulder, was shut down when the A's regained the lead.

"Obviously, not a good game," McRae said.

Miguel Tejada's two-run homer off Bierbrodt gave the A's a second-inning lead, but the Rays scrapped back against Mulder, who had spun a four-hit complete game at the Trop Sunday, and led 3-2 in the fourth.

The A's came back with two more runs -- one on Ron Gant's homer -- and led 4-3 with two outs in the fifth when the Rays gave it away.

Gant singled, Terrence Long doubled him home and Bierbrodt intentionally walked Tejada to face Eric Chavez. Chavez's hard grounder went through the legs of first baseman Aubrey Huff, scoring Long, and Tejada came in when Jose Guillen overthrew third. "A frustrating day," Bierbrodt said.

Frank Menechino and Jermaine Dye added home runs off reliever Jason Standridge to complete the assault as the playoff-bound A's improved to 41-14 since the All-Star break.

"They capitalized on our mistakes," catcher Toby Hall.

In eight games this season, the A's have outscored the Rays 60-28 and outhomered them 17-6. "They're all good hitters and they've got great numbers," Ben Grieve said. "And it looks like they do it a little better against us than other teams."

That's exactly the problem McRae was talking about. "From my vantage point, it's a kind of contagious thing," he said. "You start getting knocked around and it's the same thing that happens when you're going well and pitching well. We need someone to go out and stop the bleeding."

Joe Kennedy starts today at 1:05 local time.

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