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Red Sox wave off Rays as Hernandez blows it

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 1, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Maybe today they should just introduce them as pro wrestlers. In the home dugout ... representing Tampa Bay ... Ro-berto Her-nan-dez ... and in the visiting dugout ...

The Devil Rays' odd season wound toward an even more bizarre conclusion Saturday, their six-game winning streak coming to a stunning end when Hernandez gave up a two-run home run with two outs in the ninth, giving Boston a 4-2 win and the chance to offer up its own taunting quotes.

The Rays will play what could be their final game today, needing one more win to match last season's total of 69. If Oakland wins, the Rays' season is over. But if Oakland loses and Seattle wins, the Rays play the A's here on Monday night.

Hernandez, who waved goodbye to Trot Nixon and the Red Sox after ending Friday's game and Boston's post-season hopes with a strikeout, was on the receiving end Saturday.

He took one shot from independent league refugee Morgan Burkhart, who crushed a 1-and-0 pitch over the centerfield fence, rallying the Red Sox from a 2-1 deficit to a 3-2 advantage, then said, "It's just another at-bat."

Then he took some more from Nixon, who didn't appreciate Hernandez's post-game actions Friday or his taunting comments in the morning paper.

"That crap, waving, it's childish, it doesn't belong in the game," Nixon said. "Don't let your mouth do the talking. Just go out there and save games. He's a great closer, but the great closers don't talk that crap. They just go do their jobs. It was a beautiful thing when Burkie hit that bomb."

Nixon, who also suggested an anatomical act for Hernandez, said it was even more telling that he was the only Devil Ray talking trash.

"There's a lot of people over there across the way I respect. Greg Vaughn, Fred McGriff is the big one. Even with the squabble (on Aug. 29)," Nixon said.

"(Hernandez) just has some disgust or whatever. He feels like he has to let his mouth do the talking. ... That year he was traded to San Francisco he was supposed to be the one or whatever. He didn't do squat over there either."

"Maybe I'm just p----- off because we're going home in second place, but he's got guys on the field trying to win games and he just comes in to close games and he wants to talk trash in the newspaper."

Hernandez left the Rays clubhouse before Nixon's specific comments could be relayed to him. But he didn't seem overly concerned about any possible reaction from the Red Sox.

"It doesn't bother me," Hernandez said. "I had no expectations about going to the playoffs. They had the aspirations. You're going to drown the same way whether you swim 100 miles and barely get there; we were sunk a long time ago. Nobody remembers who finishes fourth in the Olympics."

For a long while it looked as if the story Saturday was going to be Rays starter Paul Wilson, who capped his comeback season from injury with gusto, pitching seven shutout innings for the second straight game, retiring his final 13 batters.

"The last four innings, you couldn't pitch any better than that," manager Larry Rothschild said. "It's quite a job he's done and it's been a good year for him overall."

Rothschild took Wilson out after seven innings and 91 pitches, continuing his cautious handling of a pitcher who missed the 1999 season because of elbow surgery and most of the previous two because of a shoulder operation.

"I'm not going to fight them on that; I haven't fought them all year," Wilson said. "Next year I'll fight them. But I did what I had to do. I did what I set out to do this year -- pitch again in the major leagues, pitch successfully and get my career back on track."

McGriff's seventh-inning homer, which extended his team RBI record to 105, put the Rays up 1-0. The Red Sox tied it in the eighth with a rally that started when a seemingly routine fly to right struck the B-ring catwalk and fell for a double. Rico Brogna delivered the run-scoring hit off Dan Wheeler.

The Rays went back ahead with an equally weird sequence in the eighth, Felix Martinez scoring from first on a Gerald Williams bunt that traveled about 2 feet. After an odd call from home-plate umpire Matt Hollowell, who threw up both arms as some umps do for a foul ball but then signaled fair, the Sox threw out Williams, but Brogna threw the ball away, allowing Martinez to score.

"You get to two outs in the ninth with Roberto on the mound, you know you have a good chance to put it away," Rothschild said. "It just didn't happen today."

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