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Williams proves worthy of MVP


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 1, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- Shortstop Felix Martinez has had the biggest impact of any one player on the Devil Rays this season, so much so that manager Larry Rothschild says that when Martinez doesn't make a spectacular play, you wonder what's wrong. That's valuable.

Fred McGriff has been the most productive Devil Ray, driving in a team record-tying 104 runs while scoring 81 and leading all players with a .373 on-base percentage. That's valuable.

Albie Lopez moved into the starting rotation in late May and quickly proved himself not only worthy of the assignment but capable of leading the staff, winning eight of 12 in one stretch. That's valuable.

But the most valuable Devil Ray has been Gerald Williams.

He may not be the most conventional leadoff hitter, but he has given the Rays tremendous production from that spot. He may not be the smoothest centerfielder, but his play this season has been a stark improvement over what the Rays had. He may not say much (or at least much that isn't a bit, um, out there), but he brings energy and intensity and focus and by-example leadership.

Williams has hit more home runs (21) than he ever has before, driven in more runs (89) and scored more runs (86). He leads the Rays in hits, runs, at-bats, total bases, doubles and infield hits. He has gone hitless in back-to-back games only twice all season. He ranks fourth in the American League with a .563 average with the bases loaded.

Most valuable.

OUTSTANDING ROOKIE: There really wasn't much competition, but even if there was, Steve Cox would be a strong choice. He barely played in the first half and often played out of position in the second, but it never affected his hitting. He's had two seven-game hitting streaks, hit 10 homers and tops all AL rookies with 44 walks.

MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE: Nobody knew much about Martinez when the Rays brought him up in May, and what they did know was bad, stemming from temper-control problems he had with Kansas City. He has turned out to be a spectacular fielder, a modest offensive contributor and not a bit of a problem.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Vinny Castilla was hurt, then he struggled, then he was hurt, then he struggled, then he was hurt. All in all, it was the worst season of his major-league career (a .221 average, six homers, 42 RBI), and nothing close to what the Rays expected when they traded Rolando Arrojo and Aaron Ledesma for him. For what it's worth, Castilla is talking about the 2001 comeback player of the year award.

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