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Ex-Ray vision

Out of baseball's abyss, Tampa Bay castoffs see bright lights

Posted: Thursday October 03, 2002 10:30 PM
Updated: Thursday October 03, 2002 11:47 PM
  Miguel Cairo Miguel Cairo had the game-winning single for the Cards on Thursday. AP

By Jeff Pearlman, Sports Illustrated

PHOENIX -- Somewhere on the west coast of Florida on Thursday afternoon, Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar was sitting in his Tropicana Field suite, plotting that big Randy Winn, Dewon Brazelton and Toby Hall-to-the-Cubs-for-Todd Hundley trade. From time to time, LaMar would stop drooling over Hundley’s numbers ("Sixteen homers! Color me GM of the Year!") and glance up at the TV, where Game 2 of the Cardinals-Diamondbacks Division Series was taking place.

"That," LaMar thought to himself, "will be us one day …"

Just as he was about to look away, LaMar was horrified to notice that -- egads! -- it is us. On the mound for St. Louis was right-handed reliever Rick White, Devil Ray Class of ’00. At the plate for Arizona was right fielder Quinton McCracken, Devil Ray Class of ’00. What were they doing … in the playoffs?

LaMar, breathing irrationally fast, began groping through his draws for that bottle of Prozac. This was worse than the time he signed Gerald Williams. Worse than the time he traded Jason Johnson for Danny Clyburn. Worse than the time he joined the Patti Page Fan Club.

Then -- SMACK! In the bottom of the eighth inning, with the Diamondbacks down 1-0, McCracken, the man LaMar had released two years earlier, roped a double over the head of right fielder J.D. Drew, driving in Greg Colbrunn to tie the score.

Yeah, Q! LaMar barked, momentarily forgetting that he had dumped McCracken and eventually kept Jason Tyner.

As if the lords of ESPN had conspired to send a dart through LaMar’s heart, the TV quickly flashed to Mike DiFelice, Devil Rays Class of ’01. Now the Cardinals backup catcher, DiFelice was yelling encouraging words from the dugout toward White, who -- despite allowing the unearned run -- pitched relatively well.

Mike DiFelice!?, LaMar mumbled to himself. Can this get any worse?

As he spoke, the man who traded Bobby Abreu for Kevin Stocker; who drafted Josh Hamilton over Josh Beckett; who hired Hal McRae over countless other candidates ... he knew the answer.

In the top of the ninth, with one out and Edgar Renteria on second, up to the plate walked Miguel Cairo, Devil Rays Class of ’00. In 1999, Cairo was one of Tampa’s best players, hitting .295 with 22 stolen bases as the starting second baseman. By the following spring, the Rays had replaced him for, ahem, Bobby Smith.

The reason: Smith had more upside.

The reality: Smith (rumor has it) is the head greeter at Olive Garden.

Cairo did what all ex-Devil Rays seem to do these days. Like Jim Mecir in Oakland and Doug Creek in Seattle and Bubba Trammell in San Diego, he produced.

A fastball from Arizona reliever Mike Koplove was smoked back up the middle, driving in Renteria with the game winner. "They told me in Tampa that I couldn’t play," Cairo said afterward, surrounded by TV cameras and notebooks. "They gave up on me."

White, a godsend since joining the Cards in August, was more direct. "They told all of us that we couldn’t play baseball well enough to be Devil Rays," he said. "Well, look where that team is. Look where we all are. Quinton, Miguel, myself -- we’re playing in the postseason. Where’s Tampa Bay?"

The answer was a sad one: Curled up in the corner of a dark Tropicana Field office, quivering and afraid, muttering "Todd Hundley is my friend ... Todd Hundley is my friend ... Todd Hundley is my friend" over and over and over


 
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