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It's a loss, but it's progress, Rays say

After three blowouts, a 4-3 loss to Oakland in 13 innings encourages manager Hal McRae.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 10, 2001

OAKLAND, Calif. -- You can take it as a reflection of where the Rays are or, at the least, where they have been. After they lost the longest game of their longest season, 4-3 to Oakland in 13 innings Sunday, manager Hal McRae said he was more relieved that they played competitively than upset that they lost.

The Rays had been blown out early in the first two games of this series and the last one in Seattle, and McRae was alarmed by what he was seeing: a pitching staff falling behind early, careless defense and an offense rendered virtually impotent by large deficits.

So when the Rays played the playoff-bound A's even for more than four hours Sunday, losing when Olmedo Saenz homered off Jesus Colome with one out in the 13th, it was, in a way, an accomplishment.

"I'm content," McRae said. "I was concerned because we were flashing back to the beginning of the season. That's the way we played then; we threw a ton of pitches and we worked behind and we got taken out of the games early. So that was a concern to me because I've seen that before and that doesn't work too well.

"We had a stretch of games where we did the things we're capable of doing. We didn't necessarily win every game, but our winning percentage increased and we were in games and we had chances. Like today, we had a chance to win. The other games, we had no chance to win them."

The Rays had several chances Sunday. As is virtually a necessity for them to succeed, good pitching was the key.

Rookie Joe Kennedy went six solid innings with just a few mistakes, failing to hold early 2-1 and 3-2 leads. The bullpen crew provided outstanding relief, retiring 18 consecutive batters and 19 of 20 before Saenz's home run.

Victor Zambrano allowed just a walk in two innings, striking out three. Esteban Yan, in his first action since blowing a game Sept. 3, struck out four in two perfect innings. Colome, the former A's prospect, set down seven straight before leaving a fastball a little too much over the plate.

"One good swing," Colome said.

Basically, the pitchers did what McRae told them to do when he addressed them as a group after Saturday's woeful effort.

"They came in and threw strikes and they kept the ball down," McRae said. "All the things we were doing before, they did it today. And the home run that was hit to lose the ballgame didn't even matter. They pitched long enough and we played too long. The longer you play, the more the advantage shifts to the A's. We were on the field too long."

It didn't have to be that way.

The Rays had the two early leads, thanks to Toby Hall's home run and Jason Tyner's run-scoring single, that Kennedy let slip away. And after the A's tied it in the sixth, the Rays had two promising chances to go back ahead.

They had men on second and third with one in the ninth against A's closer Jason Isringhausen after a leadoff double by Randy Winn, a walk by Ben Grieve and a sacrifice bunt by Jared Sandberg.

But Chris Gomez flied to shallow center, holding Winn at third, and Tyner struck out.

"Second and third with one out, you can't ask for more than that," Gomez said. "With two strikes I was just trying to put it in play, and unfortunately it didn't go far enough. That was the ballgame right there."

Actually, the Rays had a shot in the 13th. Greg Vaughn singled with one out and Steve Cox walked, but Hall went down swinging and Winn tapped back to the mound.

The loss was the Rays' fourth straight and capped a 1-5 trip, one of the worst in team history.

But with more tough games against the Red Sox and Yankees this week, McRae said the most important development was that the Rays got back to playing their kind of game: the pitchers keep it close, the fielders catch the ball and the hitters scratch, claw and manufacture runs any way they can.

"This statement is not going to make sense, but I feel better after this game than if we'd have won a 10-8 game," McRae said. "We can't win many 10-8 games, but we can win some low-scoring games. I think we can match up with anyone if the game doesn't get out of hand. But with the teams we're playing we're not going to beat them 10-8. If we don't pitch good and we don't play good and they get eight runs, we're probably going to lose."

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