09/08/2002 6:42 pm ET
Huff causing a shift in strategy
By Paul C. Smith / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Aubrey Huff came to bat in the third inning, took a pitch, surveyed the field and couldn't believe what he saw.
The Aubrey Huff shift.
"I looked out and saw A-Rod on the right side of second base and wondered what he was doing over there," Huff said. "Needless to say, that's the first time that's ever happened to me. I was tempted to lay down a bunt down the third-base line. But I didn't."
Huff resisted the temptation to bunt and instead hit a screaming liner down the right-field line for a double. He would later score on a two-run single by Steve Cox, as the Rays ended their five-game losing streak with a 6-3 win over Texas.
Huff went 3-for-4 on the day and, with his RBI single in the first inning, extended his career-high hitting streak to 15 games. That's the best on the Rays this season and the fourth best in Rays' history, one game behind Fred McGriff's streak in 2000. The Rays' longest hitting streak ever was 18 games by Quinton McCracken in 1998.
During the streak, Huff is hitting .443 (27-for-61), with four home runs and nine RBIs. He has raised his batting average during those 15 games from .306 to a season-best .328. He probably won't get enough at-bats to qualify for the league's Top 10, but if he did, he would be fifth as of Sunday.
Huff owns the Majors' longest current batting streak. He also is one of only three AL players presently hitting at least .320 with 20 homers. Manny Ramirez and Mike Sweeney are the others.
During the last week, the Rays have gone 1-5 and been outscored 47-16, but Huff has driven in or scored nine of the 16 runs.
"He has it all working," said Hal McRae. "It was interesting to see the Rangers shift on him. I was happy to see it. It's going to boost his confidence the more they walk him, the more they try to adjust to his hitting style. It will definitely boost his confidence. Maybe they were trying to change his mindset, make him think about something else. When [pitchers] make a mistake, he doesn't miss it."
In the fourth inning, with a runner on third base and two out, the Rangers had the shift on against Huff again. But Rangers starter Joaquin Benoit threw three outside pitches before giving Huff an intentional ball four.
Interestingly enough, during Huff's streak, he has been hitting the ball to left and left center almost as proficiently as he has to right.
"I'm probably going to have to do that more from now on," Huff said. "It's funny, during the at-bat when I walked on four pitches, they had the shift on, and he threw me four pitches away. I was waiting for him to throw a hittable fastball on the outside, and I was going to try to slap it to left. But he didn't throw one."
McRae said Huff's hitting may have given the team a boost in its final game against non-AL East teams.
"We had some life today," McRae said. "We looked like a ballclub today. We did some good things. We pitched well, we hit well and we were aggressive on the bases. The guys looked good."
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.