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Hot McGriff ties Murphy on HR list

As the Devil Rays slide backward, Fred McGriff continues to climb upward.

The Rays first baseman hit the 397th and 398th home runs of his career Wednesday, tying Dale Murphy for 32nd all-time. McGriff has four home runs in Tampa Bay's past five games _ all losses.

"I've got fans and teammates who keep reminding me about it, so we'll see how it goes," McGriff said. "We have to win some ballgames, that's the tough part about it."

When McGriff reaches the milestone, the Rays will become the fourth team in history with a pair of 400-homer members. McGriff would join Jose Canseco, who has 438.

The 1995 Indians, with Eddie Murray and Dave Winfield, are the only team in the last 30 years to have two players with at least 400 homers.

McGriff went through a spell without much power early in the season, but said he has been feeling good the last three weeks.

"My goal is always to be as consistent as I can be," he said.

WHAT'S NEXT?: More roster changes could be ahead as the Rays try to find the right mix for their pitching staff.

Continued bullpen problems could cause the Rays to look toward Triple-A Durham and former Oakland closer Billy Taylor. Signed to a minor-league contract just before the season, Taylor is leading the International League with 11 saves.

Taylor, 38, averaged 25 saves a season for Oakland from 1996-99 before being traded to the Mets late last year.

"Sure, I've considered that," manager Larry Rothschild said. "You consider everything you have to to get over this hump."

Bryan Rekar's position in the starting rotation also looks tenuous. Rekar has sandwiched two awful starts around one very good start. Rothschild would not speculate about Rekar's future after the right-hander gave up eight runs in 2 innings in Wednesday's loss.

"I don't make those decisions immediately after a game," Rothschild said.

LONG AND SHORT OF IT: Kevin Stocker was out of the lineup Tuesday because Rothschild wanted to give him a break and start Ozzie Guillen. He was out of the lineup Wednesday because Rothschild just wanted to start Guillen.

"(Guillen's) played well. I'm doing what I have to do to try to win. That's what I'm going to do from now on," Rothschild said. "Kevin will be back in there. Ozzie just had a good night so I'm going to play him again."

Guillen went 3-for-4 Tuesday with three RBI. He was 7-for-15 in five starts this season before going 0-for-4 Wednesday.

At 36, Guillen is no longer considered an everyday player. This was the first time he started back-to-back games since starting both games of a doubleheader on July 23 last season for the Braves.

"I know this is my role. This is what I've done the last three years," Guillen said. "It's just hard staying sharp all the time. You can't expect to play good every time when you're only playing once every two weeks."

HERE AND THERE: Vinny Castilla is in a 2-for-24 slump that has dropped his average to .215. Roberto Hernandez has pitched 3 scoreless innings since being hit on the elbow by a Nomar Garciaparra line drive and missing a few games last week. Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez went 10-for-13 with nine RBI in the three-game series. He is hitting .630 (17-for-27) with three homers against the Rays this season. Rangers first baseman Frank Catalanotto went 5-for-5 and tied a team record with eight consecutive hits dating to April before a stay on the disabled list.

BALLPARK ROBBERY: Do not expect Jose Guillen to invite Ruben Mateo for an off-season barbecue. Guillen said he grew up down the street from Mateo in San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic. But Mateo was not very neighborly in Tuesday night's game.

Guillen hit a 400-foot drive to centerfield that appeared to be heading out of the park but Mateo make a leaping catch. As he rounded first, Guillen slammed his helmet in disgust.

"How would you feel?" Guillen said. "You hit a ball like that and some (insert bad word) takes it away from you."

Actually, Guillen should be used to the feeling.

"He had two home runs taken away at the end of last season," Rothschild said. "That's a lot of home runs to lose in a short period of time."

_ JOHN ROMANO

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