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Promotions met with excitement and relief

Published Sep. 29, 2005

Saunders thinks demotion helped; Newman exults at reaching bigs.

After 12 seasons in the minors, Alan Newman was happy to be in the big leagues Friday. And 10 days after his demotion to Triple A, Tony Saunders was just as pleased to be back.

The left-handers joined the Rays' depleted pitching staff, Newman to be used in mid-inning relief and Saunders jumping back into the rotation and starting tonight.

As Newman, 29, prepared for Friday's game, he still was somewhat in disbelief that he actually had made it. "It hasn't completely sunk in yet, and I'm hoping it doesn't," he said.

Newman had been throwing extremely well at Durham _ he was unscored upon in his previous six outings (9 innings) _ but the promotion still was a shock. So much so that when he called his wife, Vicky, with the news, she didn't believe him:

"I told my wife I got called up, and she said, "No, you didn't.' I said, "Yes, I did,' And she said, "No, you didn't.' Then she said, "Are you serious?' and I said, "Yes,' and she said, "I've got to go!' and she hung up on me."

Vicky quickly called her relatives, but Newman didn't want to tell his who live in southern California, deciding he didn't want the extra pressure of having them in the stands for his debut.

For all he went through, Newman just wanted to enjoy the experience. After working his way through the minors for six seasons, Newman got disgusted with the structure and politics of professional baseball and in 1994 willingly gave up his dream of making it to the majors to play in an independent league.

But he settled down during his three years in Alexandria, La., and got his life and career in order. He returned to play Double-A ball for the White Sox in 1997 and spent last season with the Padres' Triple-A team. Four or five times he was told he was going to be promoted, but it never came to be.

He figures it was all that disappointment _ or the fatigue of packing all night Wednesday, then flying from North Carolina to Tampa to California on Thursday _ that has kept him calm.

"I was wondering why I didn't feel as nervous as I expected to be, or as excited," Newman said. "I've been able to cope with it without running through all the emotions I thought I would."

The nerves did seem to catch up to him when he got to the mound. Making his debut in a most prickly situation, the bases loaded and menacing Mo Vaughn at the plate, Newman balked in a run before he threw his first pitch. He then gave up a two-run single to Vaughn before retiring Garret Anderson and Troy Glaus.

Saunders said his primary emotion when the Rays sent him to Triple A on May 4 was relief. "It was like a breath of fresh air going down there," Saunders said. "They got me out of this atmosphere and let me think about some things and get my head together. I'm not going to lie about it _ I'm not 100 percent back to where I used to be, but I'm a lot closer than I was before I left, I can tell you that much."

Saunders made one start in Triple A, allowing two earned runs on eight hits Saturday, but he said it was enough to make a difference.

"Just my presence out there (is different)," he said. "I watched some films and I was just out there throwing the ball, going through the motions. But my last start at Triple A was really good. I was in the flow of the game in situations. I wasn't just letting things happen; I was making things happen. It's a big difference."

Ideally, the Rays would have left Saunders in Triple A for a while longer. But injuries to Jim Mecir and Albie Lopez forced them to move Esteban Yan back to the bullpen and created an opening in the rotation.

Their hope is that Saunders is ready to fill it capably.

"I'm sure it was a wake-up call for him and just from what I've read and heard and when I talked to him, he felt it was needed and he handled it well," manager Larry Rothschild said. "Hopefully it will spur on development in the right direction."