05/31/2002 01:44 am ET
Vaughn emerges from slump
By Paul C. Smith / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Rays certainly had enough chances.
Against Oakland on Thursday night, Tampa Bay had a hit in every inning except the 11th. And the Rays had seven innings when they had at least two runners on base. But they squandered most of their opportunities as they went 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-5 with men on third and less than two outs.
"It was like pulling teeth but we got it done," said Rays manager Hal McRae. "We had a lot of hits, but our execution wasn't good."
Indeed, the Rays had 19 hits throughout the game, one less than the team record. But they managed only three runs through nine innings and even that required scoring a run off A's closer Billy Koch in the ninth.
"That was one I thought we were going to pull out because they had so many opportunities and we still hung around," said A's manager Art Howe. "We battled, but they deserved to win. They had a lot more hits than us, that's for sure."
The Rays had 11 hits off A's starter Tim Hudson in six innings and rookie third baseman Jared Sandberg had three in his first three trips, a personal best. Every Rays starter had at least one hit and seven of them had at least two.
The biggest and best news was that veteran Greg Vaughn appeared, despite some bad swings, to start to emerge from his season-long slump. Batting .120 going into the game and without a hit in 12 straight at-bats, Vaughn singled in the first inning. He then struck out three consecutive at-bats and started to hear it from the fans. His third strikeout came with men at first and third and only one out.
"This is the first time I've been booed here," Vaughn said. "I can't fault them. I have to give them a reason to cheer. People have a right to voice their opinion but, honestly, when I'm up there, I'm trying to tune out the boos."
Vaughn then came up in the ninth with none out, a runner on second and the Rays behind 3-2. He singled to tie the game and eventually moved around to third base but, again, the Rays were not able to capitalize.
In the 10th inning, the Rays loaded the bases and needed only a sacrifice fly from Vaughn to win for the first time in eight games against Oakland. The A's added drama to the situation by moving outfielder Adam Piatt to first and using five defenders in the infield. That was Howe's plan because he switched from Koch to submarine pitcher Chad Bradford and expected a ground ball from Vaughn.
"They used to do that to me when I was in Milwaukee, too," Vaughn said.
Vaughn didn't say if he was more successful than not against the shift while he was with the Brewers. But on Thursday night, he hit a sizzling line drive to short, where Eric Chavez was playing. Chavez then flipped to Miguel Tejada, who doubled up Randy Winn off second.
"That was too bad because I hit the ball good," Vaughn said. "They just made the play."
That double play and the strikeout in the seventh inning were weighing on Vaughn's mind when he came to bat in the 13th with Russ Johnson on second and no one out.
"I had to clear my mind," Vaughn said. "I went up there thinking about a whole bunch of things, mostly mechanics, earlier and didn't get the job done. I should have just been watching the ball."
Vaughn watched in the 13th as the ball sailed over Terrence Long's head and gave the Rays a 4-3 win.
"I wish I had done it a lot earlier," Vaughn said.
After the game, Vaughn was happy he had invested a little extra time before the game.
"I had a long talk with Hal and I told him I'm going to keep battling, I want to be out there," Vaughn said. "And then I did some extra work -- off the tee, in the cage and soft toss. I've been working extra hard."
Vaughn said he felt like he started to hit well on the Rays' 12-game road trip that ended Sunday but he wasn't quite on track yet.
"On the road, I started seeing the ball well," Vaughn said. "But I didn't always get the hits. When I did, they usually went out of the park, but I still needed to work."
The result, at least on Thursday night, was that Vaughn raised his average 13 points, drove in the tying run in the ninth and then the winning run in the 13th.
"I want to be out there with the game on the line, I want to be in that situation," Vaughn said. "I'm making a lot of money and I'm supposed to come through in those situations."
Paul C. Smith covers the Devil Rays for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.