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Yankees prove strong since moving to Tampa

In a repeat performance, the Tampa Yankees won the Western Division title for the season's first half, finishing with a 41-29 record.

The Yankees have won two first-half crowns and a Florida State League championship in their two-season stint at the University of South Florida's Red McEwen Field. The team relocated from Fort Lauderdale in 1994 and is expected to move into its new 10,000-seat ballpark, across from Tampa Stadium, next season.

The Yankees can do some damage at the plate and on the basepaths. They have a league-high 626 hits. Shane Spencer's 48 RBI lead the league, and he is second in runs scored with 50 and hits with 79. Sloan Smith has 43 RBI. R.

D. Long has scored 43 runs and has five triples. Long and Kraig Hawkins each have 21 steals.

Pitching, however, is the team's strong suit, manager Jake Gibbs said. "Our pitching's been pretty much consistent all year," he said. "The pitching has kept us where we are."

Tampa has a league-best 2.73 earned-run average, led by Marty Janzen (9-2, 2.41, 84 strikeouts), Matt Drews (8-4, 2.34, 75 strikeouts) and Mark Hubbard (3-3, 1.97). Reliever Dan Rios has 14 saves.

The Clearwater Phillies took second with a 38-32 mark, three games behind Tampa. Clearwater remained in the hunt until dropping a doubleheader on the last day of the first half.

Phillies manager Don McCormack described the first half "like a roller coaster ride. We'd get hot and we'd get cold. In the end, we just got hot at the right time."

Two Phillies led the FSL in key offensive categories. Outfielder Wendell Magee hit .342 and first baseman Dan Held's 11 home runs contributed to Clearwater's league-leading 43 homers.

Magee and Held, along with catcher Robert Estalella, were named to the FSL All-Star team.

Estalella has hit seven homers, second on the team, scored 35 runs and driven in 28. Defense is where he helps the team the most, McCormack said.

"He's pretty solid behind the plate," McCormack said. "He adds some stability up the middle and that's where you have to shine if you're going to win championships."

The Dunedin Blue Jays got off to a horrendous 12-25 start, but recovered with an impressive turnaround. The Blue Jays climbed back into contention by winning 23 of 30 to finish 35-33.

"Our attendance went up probably 30 percent in June compared to what it had been in April and May," Dunedin general manager Gary Rigley said.

Ryan Jones powered the offense with 10 homers and 40 RBI. Switch-hitter Jeff Patzke scored 39 runs and knocked in 40. He hit a league-high 20 doubles and seven homers, two of which came in the same inning of an 8-7 comeback win over Fort Myers on April 20.

Defensively, catcher Adam Melhuse threw out 12 consecutive baserunners in one stretch.

The St. Petersburg Cardinals came in last at 32-36 despite boasting the second-best pitching staff in the league. Only Tampa had a lower ERA than St. Petersburg's 2.98 mark. Cardinal pitchers stayed on top of opposing hitters by allowing the second fewest walks in the league, 206 to Charlotte's 200.

Brian Carpenter (5-3, 2.14 ERA) and Bret Wagner (3-3, 2.26) are among the top 10 pitchers, Kris Detmers has 80 strikeouts, Jeff Matranga has worked a league-high 32 innings and reliever Jeff Matulevich has 12 saves.

Contributing to the pitcher's performance is catcher Elieser Marrero, manager Chris Maloney said.

"He's got some big hits (eight home runs, 38 RBI), but he's done a whale of a job catching," Maloney said. "Just look at our ERA. He must be doing something right."

Dave Madsen hits .320 to lead the offense, but St. Petersburg's team batting average is only one point higher than Kissimmee's league-worst .237.

Following this weekend's all-star break, the second half resumes with a full slate of games Monday night.