Cubs 8, Devil Rays 1

Friday, June 6th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) -- As if the Chicago Cubs needed more attention after Sammy Sosa's corked bat fiasco, now the Yankees are coming to town with Rogers Clemens seeking his 300th win.

"I can't control the hype, all you can do is control the game," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "You play the Yankees and it's the team everybody wants to beat and be like."

Before the Cubs could face the Yankees for the first time since the 1938 World Series (a four-game New York sweep), they had to wrap up their first interleague assignment with Tampa Bay.

Baker held a team meeting before Thursday's 8-1 victory to make sure the Cubs focused on baseball, not the outside distractions, including Sosa's possible suspension.

"It was a great meeting. I feel very happy about it," Sosa said after hitting an RBI single in the first and finishing 1-for-4.

"Dusty thought it was slipping away because things have been happening so much with the Sammy incident. It can affect you if you let it bother you," said Chicago's Lenny Harris, who got his 1,000th hit.

"It's been an emotional week, especially for Sammy. We're behind him all the way. He's going to keep his head up."

Bob Watson, who's in charge of discipline for the commissioner's office, suspended Sosa for eight games on Friday. Sosa appealed the suspension.

Sosa's corked bat was discovered when it shattered in the first inning Tuesday night after he hit a ground ball.

Sosa, No. 17 on the career homer list with 505, claims he mistakenly used a batting practice bat in the game, a contention that has been met with great skepticism across the country. Seventy-six other bats in Sosa's locker and five at the Hall of Fame were tested and found to have no foreign substance.

Sosa, in a batting tailspin since coming off the disabled list Friday, is 4-for-24 in his last six games. He hasn't homered since May 1.

By coincidence, Sosa hit his first major league homer in 1989 off Clemens at Fenway Park. He'll face Clemens again Saturday in a nationally televised matchup with Chicago's Kerry Wood.

"It's probably going to take a couple more games before I feel comfortable at the plate," Sosa said.

But a suspension could disrupt his timing even more so, even if Sosa would appeal.

"We're not worried," Baker said. "We're just trying to put him on a crash course to the excellence that we've all come to know. I'll be glad when some of this focus is over and he gets back to business."

Chicago's Matt Clement (3-6), who had lost his previous five decisions, got his first win since April 18, allowing seven hits in seven innings with two walks and a strikeout.

Five of the Cubs' seven runs in the third off Dewon Brazleton (1-5) were unearned, thanks to three errors -- two by former Cub Jason Smith at third base one day after he was called up from the minors.

"We've had a problem with that, where we make a mistake and things escalate," Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said.

"Brazleton made some bad pitches. Then he lost his composure a little bit." Notes: Harris led off for the first time since April 2001, when he played for the Mets. ... Smith was a 1996 draft choice of the Cubs in the 23th round. He was called up Wednesday when the Devil Rays released Damion Easley.