Rays' sting operation betrayed by pitching

Move to boost offense evident, can't overcome Alvarez's lack control

April 06, 1999|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The major off-season priority for the expansion Tampa Bay Devils Rays was to add some muscle to an offense that produced 94 fewer runs than any other American League team last season and often couldn't carry its share of the burden as did the team's respectable pitching.

Judging from yesterday's opener at Camden Yards, the goal may have been accomplished because the Rays scrapped and clawed and homered their way to a seven-run output that would have won any number of games.

But not on this afternoon.

This time, the pitching staff wasn't up to snuff and the Orioles ruined their 1999 debut, 10-7, at a site where Tampa Bay captured five of six in its maiden season.

"It wasn't a blowout, like a 10-1 game," said veteran third baseman Wade Boggs, who had two hits. "We just continued to battle the whole way. Sometimes you win those, sometimes you don't. But they've got a strong batting order. When they start throwing Albert Belle and Will Clark and those guys at you, it isn't easy."

Starter Wilson Alvarez -- who no-hit the Orioles in his second major-league start in 1991 -- bore the brunt of the restructured lineup, caving in to a four-run third inning and leaving one out later with his team behind 6-3.

"I was just wild the whole game," said Alvarez, who walked five. "I couldn't throw strikes and kept getting behind. We scored seven times; I just don't do the job. I know I've got to go out and get some people out next time."

Alvarez -- whose ball-strike ratio was almost 50-50 -- was bombarded for home runs by Brady Anderson and Albert Belle, the latter shot shoving the Orioles in front to stay. It was the turning point.

"That was the big blow, no doubt about it," said the Devil Rays' biggest offensive acquisition, Jose Canseco. "We battled back and forth all day, but we never overcame that one."

Canseco supplied his first Tampa Bay home run with a soaring wedge shot down the left-field line against Mike Mussina in the fifth. John Flaherty also homered for the Rays, who went 6-1-1 during the last 10 days of the Grapefruit League.

"Our team showed promise the last couple of weeks [in Florida]," continued Canseco, whose last three homers have been against Mussina. "So, this was a tough loss. But if there is any such thing as a good loss, this is one."

Manager Larry Rothschild agreed, putting a positive spin on his post-game assessment.

"I'll take the runs we scored every day," said Rothschild. "Overall, I thought we did a good job of swinging the bat. I don't care if it's 1-0 or 10-9, it's a loss. But this is a positive sign of what can happen when the pitching holds its own."

Alvarez walked three men in the first two innings and carried a 2-0 lead before Anderson launched his downfall. Belle culminated a run of four straight hits with an opposite-field blast to right on what Alvarez labeled "a pretty good pitch.

"It was in a good spot, low and away. But he is one of the best hitters in the league."

Rothschild evaluated Alvarez's fastball as "not as good as it needs to be. He was up a lot, up and away. When you can sit on certain pitches, it makes for a long day on the mound."

Tampa Bay had a big chance to recapture a lead in the sixth with the bases loaded and one out. Mike Fetters entered and walked Canseco, forcing in a run, but then got Fred McGriff and John Flaherty.

"By that time, there were a lot of shadows involved at the plate," said Canseco. "There was one breaking ball I should have hit, but I misjudged it because of the shadows. I thought it was a fastball."

Canseco said Mussina had good stuff, but that he was prepared for the knuckle curve he was thrown when he homered.

"I don't want to take anything away from our hitters," said Rothschild. "I thought we had good at-bats against him [Mussina], especially with two strikes."

There wasn't anything wrong with how the Rays fared at the plate. This time, the sting was missing from their arms.

Pub Date: 4/06/99

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