Kazmir has strong outing, but Rays fall
Left-hander strikes out 10 batters in battle with Halladay
ST. PETERSBURG -- What started as a glamorous pitching duel between a pair of the American League's best turned into a blue-collar battle of heart that saw the Blue Jays defeat the Rays, 6-3, in front of a crowd of 12,436 at Tropicana Field.
Roy Halladay vs. Scott Kazmir is the AL equivalent of Godzilla-King Kong, and each had their "A" game early in the Easter Sunday contest.
"We played a good ballgame, but it wasn't easy with Kazmir," Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He was blowing through us; he was real good. Doc [Halladay] battled the same way. It's the kind of matchup you anticipate from those two guys. They're two of the better arms in the league. Kazmir was walking right through us early."
The first nine outs of the game were strikeouts, and Kazmir was particularly nasty. The Rays' ace recorded six strikeouts through two innings, and eight through three. Kazmir set a new team record at one point, when he struck out six consecutive batters to surpass the previous Rays record held by several pitchers.
"I got in a groove early ... buried my slider early, so that was effective with a few strikes," said Kazmir, who fell to 0-1 this season. "Just a couple of pitches I wish I had back. Coulda, woulda, shoulda."
One of the pitches was a hanging slider in the first inning to Vernon Wells, who belted a solo home run. And there was the fastball that caught too much of the plate that Reed Johnson re-routed for a three-run homer. All of the Jays' runs against Kazmir in his seven innings came by way of those two swings.
"Normally the last couple of years, [Kazmir] comes at us with straight fastballs and it just comes at you at 95 [mph] and it's pretty straight," Johnson said. "But now he's mixing that two-seamer in, and it is really running well off the plate. He kept throwing it out there with a lot of movement and made it tough on us early."
Johnson's home run came in the fifth and put the Jays up, 4-2. But Kazmir continued to battle like he did in Monday's opener when he endured a 35-pitch first inning.
"Things don't go your way, you can't just fold up," Kazmir said. "You've got to go out there and eat up as many innings as you can and try to keep your team in the ballgame."
Halladay got touched for a run in the second when Delmon Young led off the inning with a double and moved to third on Akinori Iwamura's groundout to second. Elijah Dukes walked, and Young scored when Dukes got caught stealing. Rocco Baldelli added a solo home run in the fourth to put the Rays up 2-1.
"I wouldn't necessarily call them good swings against [Halladay]," said Baldelli, downplaying his three hits. "I know I got a couple of hits against him. But you can't take anything too seriously against him, because he's a good pitcher and he's going to be just fine.
"You'll get a couple of runs against the guy and you might think he might not have it today. Then you look up and he's always in the game at the end of the game. And he wants to win. He's out there and wants to stay out there for nine [innings] if he can. He's tough."
Halladay seemed to gain a second wind when he struck out the Rays in order in the fifth before running into trouble in the sixth. Young's single with one out scored Baldelli to cut the Jays' lead to 4-3. Dukes then drew a two-out walk to load the bases, but Halladay retired Dioner Navarro on a lineout to second to end the threat. Halladay pitched through the seventh, leaving the game well in hand with a 6-3 lead.
"[Halladay's] ball was moving quite a bit today," said Rays first baseman Carlos Pena, who struck out twice against the Jays ace. "And he was executing his pitches. You hate to tip your hat to anybody, but he made some very good pitches out there. That's why he came out victorious."
Pena felt for Kazmir, who struck out 10 batters but suffered the loss.
"Kaz did an outstanding job, and he deserved to win," Pena said. "We just couldn't get it going against Halladay, even though we battled. We couldn't get it done. We just have to regroup and go after them again tomorrow."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.