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Red Sox's closer-by-committee theory fails first test

4/1/2003

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Tampa Bay is off to an exciting
start under Lou Piniella, thanks to an inauspicious debut by
Boston's revamped bullpen.

The Devil Rays rallied for five runs in the bottom of the ninth
inning -- three on Carl Crawford's two-out, game-winning homer -- to
ruin another strong opening-day performance by Pedro Martinez and
beat the Red Sox 6-4 Monday.

Pinch-hitter Terry Shumpert had a two-run homer off Alan Embree
in the ninth, and Crawford hit his shot off loser Chad Fox to
immediately raise questions about Boston's closer-by-committee approach this season.

"It didn't turn in our favor tonight. But I tell you what, it
will a lot of nights,'' manager Grady Little said.

"Regardless of who's out there on the mound, somebody's got to
make the pitch. Tonight, we had a little trouble making the pitches
at the right time.''

Limited to just an unearned run and three hits by Martinez in
the first seven innings, the young team with baseball's lowest payroll wouldn't quit.

Shumpert, a 13-year veteran who signed with Tampa Bay on
Saturday, homered in his first at-bat with the Devil Rays.

After a single by Ben Grieve and a walk to pinch-hitter Marlon
Anderson, Crawford fouled off two 0-2 pitches, took a ball and then
brought a crowd of 34,391 to its feet with his game-winning drive
over the right-center wall.

Piniella led his players out of the dugout to celebrate as the
Devil Rays ended an 11-game home losing streak to the Red Sox.

"I don't care how long you've been managing in the big
leagues,'' Tampa Bay's Aubrey Huff said. "That had to be special.''

Rookie Seth McClung pitched two scoreless innings for his first
major league win.

"We talked about putting together something in the ninth to
give ourselves a chance, and that's exactly what happened,'' said
Piniella, who put the opening-day victory in perspective.

The Devil Rays have won four consecutive season openers, the
longest current streak in the majors. The six-year-old franchise,
however, has never won more than 69 games or finished higher than
last place.

"Let's not get euphoric,'' said Piniella, who inherited a team
that lost 106 games in 2002. "But at the same time, these are
things you build on.''

Shea Hillenbrand hit a two-run double off Devil Rays starter Joe
Kennedy in the first inning and finished with three RBI.

Martinez, who struck out six, walked one and hit two batters,
left with a 4-1 lead. Ramiro Mendoza pitched a perfect eighth for
Boston, but Embree and Fox couldn't finish off the weak-hitting
Devil Rays, who got four of their seven hits in their final at-bat.

"I'm not disappointed at all. I can only do what I can to give
my team an opportunity to win,'' Martinez said. "After that,
everything just slips out of my hands. ... There's nothing I can
do, really.''

It appeared the Red Sox had given Martinez all the offensive
support he needed in the first with help from fielding errors by
Devil Rays second baseman Brent Abernathy and third baseman Huff,
whose mistake allowed the first run to score.

Hillenbrand doubled just beyond Grieve's reach in right-center
to drive in two more for a 3-0 lead. He came up with the bases
loaded again in the fifth and grounded to second to drive in his
third run.

Martinez, who was 20-4 with a major league-best 2.26 ERA last
season, lost his shutout bid in the seventh when third baseman
Hillenbrand made a throwing error that allowed a run to score. But
Embree and Fox said Martinez should have earned a win.

"Basically, I feel like I just let my team down,'' Fox said.

"Pedro pitched a good game,'' Embree added. "I just flat out
didn't get the job done.''

Kennedy settled down after a shaky first inning that mirrored
his last three spring training starts. The 22-year-old left-hander
allowed four runs, one earned, and eight hits in seven innings.

Game notes
Martinez remained 10-0 against teams managed by Piniella.
The right-hander is 3-0 in six opening-day starts for Boston. ...
Tampa Bay's 0-10 record at Tropicana Field against the Red Sox last
year was the worst home record for any team against one opponent
since the 1954 Red Sox went 0-11 against the Cleveland Indians. ...
The Devil Rays play 13 of their first 16 games against the Red Sox
and New York Yankees. ... The March 31 season opener was the
earliest ever for the Red Sox, who began their 103rd season. ...
Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden and general manager Rich
McKay threw out the ceremonial first pitches.