<
>

Largest rally to .500 in 105 years

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Dewon Brazelton had a lot on his
mind long before he found himself flirting with a no-hitter.

Brazelton held the Florida Marlins hitless until Mike Lowell
doubled with two outs in the eighth inning Friday night, and the
Tampa Bay Devil Rays won 2-0 for their 12th straight interleague
victory.

Things have been going so well for Tampa Bay the past month that
the 24-year-old right-hander was concerned about letting his
teammates down as the Devil Rays continued a historic push to turn
around their season.

"There were some nerves involved, first of all because I knew
we were coming off a big road trip -- all those wins in a row,"
Brazelton said of the 12-game winning streak -- longest in franchise
history -- that ended in Toronto on Wednesday night.

"I didn't want to disappoint my teammates or the fans of Tampa
Bay. ... I want them to have confidence when my name is up on that
lineup."

If the third pick in the 2001 draft behind the Twins' Joe Mauer
and Cubs' Mark Prior continues to perform as he did in rebounding
from a poor performance six days earlier, that shouldn't be a
problem.

Brazelton (1-0) didn't make it through three innings despite
being staked to a 7-0 lead against Arizona on June 19. This time,
he lost his no-hit bid when Lowell lined a ground-rule double to
left-center with two outs in the eighth.

Lowell worked the count to 3-2, then fouled off three straight
pitches before delivering his hit. Brazelton's right leg began
cramping in the sixth inning, and there was a question about
whether he would have gone back out for the ninth, even if he had
retired Lowell.

"I made three or four quality pitches that he fouled," said
Brazelton, who threw 125 pitches. "Finally I threw that last one
and I didn't care, I wasn't going to walk him. ... It ended up
right in the middle and he hit it for a double."

Brazelton walked six, struck out five and hit a batter on his
way to his second big league win, which came exactly a year after
the Devil Rays -- frustrated by his 1-6 record and 6.89 ERA --
demoted him to Class-A Bakersfield, where he spent the last two
months of the 2003 season.

"What happened last year, happened last year," Brazelton said.
"I really don't think about it any more."

Danys Baez got four outs for his 14th save in 16 opportunities,
allowing a single to Hee Seop Choi in the ninth before finishing
the combined two-hitter.

"We didn't do anything," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said.
"That kid did a good job. You can't take anything away from him."

The victory was the 14th in 15 games for the Devil Rays, who
improved to a major league-best 25-7 since May 20 and -- at 35-35
overall -- joined the 1899 Louisville Colonels as the only major
league teams to reach .500 after being 18 games below at any point
during a season.

The Devil Rays also are a major league-best 12-1 in interleague
play, a startling turnaround from 2003 when they went 3-15 against
NL opponents for the most losses by one team in one season.

The 12-game winning streak against the NL is the second-longest
in the eight-year history of interleague play, one behind a 13-game
run the New York Yankees began last season and finished this month.

"We have been playing good baseball. Good things happen when
you play good baseball," Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said,
playing down climbing back to .500. "Let's just continue to play
good baseball and see what happens."

Rocco Baldelli snapped a scoreless tie with an RBI single off
A.J. Burnett (0-3) in the sixth. Aubrey Huff's RBI grounder drove
in the other run off Burnett, who allowed three hits, walked one
and struck out five en route to the 10th complete game of his
career.

A day after setting team records for runs, hits and total bases
in a 19-13 victory over Toronto, the Devil Rays struggled to
generate any offense against Burnett, who missed most of last
season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in
April 2003.

Carl Crawford's single, leading off the first, was the only hit
off the Florida right-hander through five innings. But Brazelton's
ability to work out of two jams with runners in scoring position
kept the game from slipping away from Tampa Bay.

Burnett, who retired 14 in a row at one point, has not won a
game in the majors since Aug. 18, 2002. He's 0-5 in 13 appearances
since, including 11 starts -- the most consecutive games he's gone
without a victory in his career.

"Any loss is tough to swallow," Burnett said. "The other guy
gave up less hits, and that's the bottom line."

Game notes
Crawford has two hits in six straight games. He also stole
his AL-leading 32nd base. ... Florida 2B Luis Castillo, who has a
hit in 23 of 25 career games against the Devil Rays, went 0-for-3
with a walk. ... Marlins RHP Josh Beckett was placed on the 15-day
disabled list with a strained back muscle. ... The Devil Rays
called up CF Joey Gathright from Triple-A Durham. He went 0-for-3
with one strikeout in his major league debut.