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Countdown to 3,000: Will it stop at Trop?

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 25, 1999


Whether it's a single through the middle, a liner to the gap or -- as would be most appropriate -- a double to left, Wade Boggs' 3,000th hit is going to be the crowning moment of this Devil Rays season.

And the days leading up to it could be among the most interesting.

Because for all the good that Boggs' milestone accomplishment will bring, and it will be considerable, his ascension presents a predicament.

The Devil Rays organization, starting from managing general partner Vince Naimoli, wants Boggs to reach the magic number at Tropicana Field. Think of the storybook angle of the hometown boy making good. Think of the promotions planned to make it a community celebration. Think of Tropicana Field actually being sold out for a night or two.

Boggs, having played 18 seasons to get this close to what he considers the final piece of his career, just wants to complete the mission. Sure, all things equal, he'd rather do it at home, too. But in a season when plenty has gone wrong, and at an age when you don't know what might go next, he really just wants to get it done.

Somewhere in the middle is Larry Rothschild, truly attempting to manage his way through this one, trying to do what's best for the team but also sensitive to the concerns of all involved. "I think to a great extent it's going to have to play itself out and we'll see where we are," Rothschild said.

Something may have to give. Boggs went into play Saturday needing 13 hits to 3,000 and the Rays having five games left on this homestand. They're off Thursday, then play three games at Oakland and three more at Seattle before opening a six-game homestand Aug. 6 against Cleveland and Baltimore.

Say Boggs has a good week and heads west needing just three or four hits. Do the Rays bench him for most or all of the trip, bettering the chances he gets to 3,000 at home? Or do they let him play, running the risk he makes history on the road and, even worse, maybe in the middle of the night, when few will even know it?

Or do they consider a third scenario, keeping him out of a couple of home games this week, creating a margin so he can play in some of the road games and still come home with 3,000 in sight.

Boggs says he'd just like to go for it. "My career has been so storybook and so scripted. Everything has just fallen into place and I'm hoping to do it at home. I'd love to do it in front of the hometown fans," he said.

"But if I've got two or three hits left and we're going to Oakland and Seattle, it's going to be difficult to sit out because I want to go ahead and get it. I mean, I don't want something to happen and I wake up one morning and I've got 2,997 and something happened. If I have the opportunity to get it, I'm going to."

When all this was run by Rothschild last week, he said he probably would not sit Boggs for the whole trip, but qualified his answer "at this point in time." Word could come from over his head anyway. "I think everybody involved would like to see him get it here," Rothschild said.

The Rays' brass may have a powerful ally. Win Boggs, Wade's father, says he has instructed his son on what to do: "I told him, when you get on the road and you get close you sit because I ain't coming out to California. You just by-God sit and do it Tampa where everybody can see you."

TRADING UP: Most of the Rays' homegrown prospects are in the low minors, years from the big leagues. But the value of a strong system was illustrated Friday when the Rays were able to acquire promising OF Jose Guillen by including minor-league C Humberto Cota in a deal with Pittsburgh. "Ideally you want all the players you sign and develop to play for you, however that's not realistic," GM Chuck LaMar said. "The good organizations use the players they sign and develop, and if they fit what they need at the major-league level, so be it, and if they're able to trade them for what they need at the major-league level, then the club is better off."

HOO-RAYS: After making one trade in 608 days since the expansion draft, "Trader Chuck" LaMar made three in five days last week. . . . Rays players on Monday morning will visit St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa and All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. . . . In 257 games since winning the World Series, Marlins pitchers have thrown two complete-game shutouts -- both by ex-Ray Dennis Springer. . . . The Greater Clearwater Chamber of Commerce Rays luncheon is Tuesday. Call (727) 461-0011 for information.

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