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And the hero is guess, just guess

Having spent a week wrestling with a potential trade to the Cubs and part of the afternoon explaining why he didn't approve the deal, the last place Fred McGriff wanted to be after Monday night's game was the center of attention.

But that's the price a hero pays.

McGriff hit a one-out home run in the ninth inning to lead the Rays to a 6-5 victory over the Braves, putting a dramatic exclamation point on his decision to stay with Tampa Bay.

"Right now I'm tired," McGriff said. "It's been a whole crazy week, and I've got to get me some rest and relax a little bit."

McGriff can say he's tired, he can say he doesn't like the spotlight, he can say he doesn't appreciate the scrutiny of his decision.

But his numbers, and his manager, say differently.

In the five games since word of the potential trade broke, he is hitting .300 with four homers and seven RBI.

"I think he likes it," manager Hal McRae said. "Whatever's going on, he likes it. Regardless of what he says, he's having more fun than anyone with this thing.

"And if he continues to swing like he is, he'll probably end up getting what he wants. I have no clue what that is, but he's making a good case to get what he wants."

The victory guaranteed the Rays their first road series win of the season in 15 tries. It gave them a 10-7 record against NL teams (as opposed to 20-56 vs. AL teams) with one interleague game left tonight, ensuring a winning record. And it extended their illogical tendency to play their better games against their most talented opponents.

"When you've lost as many games as we've lost, you're hard-pressed to figure out why you win some games and who you beat," McRae said.

"I think we play much better against first-division clubs, and there's no reason for that. Other than maybe we're trying to show them we're not as bad as they think we are. Whatever it is, it's working. So we need to stick with whatever philosophy the players have because we play competitively against first-division clubs."

McGriff, who leads the majors with a .434 interleague average, came to the rescue just in time as the Rays had blown two early leads.

Randy Winn's leadoff homer put them up 1-0, but Ryan Rupe gave it back. The Braves got one run on Chipper Jones' 27th homer and another when Andruw Jones bunted his way on and came around to score on Brian Jordan's sacrifice fly.

The Rays scored four in the fifth, the atypical rally starting with a ground-rule double by Rupe, who hadn't gotten a hit since high school, and capped with a three-run opposite-field home run by Ben Grieve, who hadn't homered since June 28 and has just seven on the season.

"Grieve struck a blow tonight; maybe he's back," McRae said.

"I told him when he came to the dugout, "Nice to have you back, Ben. You've been gone too long.' "

Said Grieve: "I wish I could implant that swing in my memory and do it every time."

The Braves rallied, getting two on a sixth-inning home run by Jordan on Rupe's 86th and final pitch and tying the score in the seventh on an unearned run traced to a Brent Abernathy error.

McGriff, who homered twice against his former team Sunday, stepped to the plate with one out in the ninth and sent Steve Karsay's first pitch on a 428-foot journey over the right-centerfield fence.

"Hanging splits go a long way, and I kind of figured that out," Karsay said.

Esteban Yan survived a shaky ninth for his ninth save, giving up a leadoff single and getting the final out when former teammate Dave Martinez lined to center with the tying run on second. Victor Zambrano got the win.

"Baseball is a humbling game, and you've go to be out there fighting all the time," McGriff said. "Some days you're a hero, and sometimes you're a goat. You've just got to hang in there, and I've been hanging in there for some years.

"It's always good to help your team win a game."

The way the day turned out, everyone in the clubhouse was glad that team was still the Rays.