Maddon's move is grounds for victory
Witasick induces bases-full double play, then Navarro homers
ST. PETERSBURG -- Jay Witasick had just taken over for Scott Kazmir and the Tropicana Field natives began to grow restless.
Many in the crowd of 24,068 saw what transpired there at the start of the seventh inning as a bubbling cauldron cooking up yet another bullpen disaster. Accordingly, they barked their displeasure at Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon.
In a tie game, Jeff Kent began the Dodgers seventh by drawing a leadoff walk and Olmedo Saenz followed with a double, leading to Maddon's decision to intentionally walk James Loney. The move made sense. Loney already had a triple, a single and he'd lined out hard in his only other at-bat. Besides, loading the bases set up the force.
"Joe went out there and told Witasick to throw a ground-ball pitch and he did it," Rays catcher Dioner Navarro said.
Matt Kemp grounded hard to Akinori Iwamura and the Rays third baseman threw home to Navarro, who touched the plate for the forceout then threw to Carolos Pena at first to complete the twin killing.
"I knew we had a shot because it was hit fairly hard," Navarro said. "All I had to do was to turn and throw it back to first and do my job."
The inning wasn't over, but the worst of it was, and the Rays used Navarro's first homer of the season in the bottom of the seventh for a 4-3 win over the Dodgers on "Turn Back the Clock Night," which saw the Dodgers dressed in Brooklyn Dodgers uniforms commemorating their 1955 World Series win. Meanwhile, the Devil Rays went from sinners to Saints, as in wearing the uniforms of the St. Petersburg Saints, the Minor League team that played in St. Petersburg in 1955.
After the critical double play, Casey Fossum relieved Witasick and walked the first batter he faced to once again load the bases before Tony Abreu flied out to allow the Rays to escape the potentially explosive situation. Navarro then connected leading off the seventh.
The Rays catcher has struggled with the bat all season -- he entered Saturday night's game hitting .170 -- and has pretty much swung a benign stick since arriving to the Rays after a trade with the Dodgers last summer.
As struggling hitters are prone to do, Navarro immediately fell behind in the count to Dodgers starter Randy Wolf.
"I went down 0-2 and I was trying to put the ball in play and make something happen," Navarro said.
Battling the Dodgers left-hander, Navarro managed to work the count to 3-2.
At that point, "I was looking for a good pitch to hit it hard," Navarro said.
And he got what he was looking for, sending it arching into the left-field stands.
"Always nice to hit a home run," said Navarro when asked how sweet it was to hit a game-winning home run against his former team. "... It doesn't matter who we're playing ... we're just trying to go out there, play hard and get a win."
As for his former team?
"I've got nothing but good things to say about the organization," Navarro said. "They treated me good the whole time I'm there."
Iwamura got the Rays going in the first when he led off with a home run to left-center field on a 2-1 pitch from Wolf. Brendan Harris followed with a double and scored on Ty Wigginton's sacrifice fly to give the Rays a 2-0 lead.
Iwamura scored the Rays third run after hitting a double to lead off the fifth, moving to third on Harris' sacrifice bunt before Carl Crawford drove him home with a sacrifice fly.
Kazmir held the Dodgers hitless through three and scoreless through five before surrendering three in the sixth. Once again, the left-hander showed electric stuff, but he walked five and his pitch count reached 116, which orchestrated his exodus after the sixth.
"Five walks, that's not going to cut it," Kazmir said. "In the sixth inning there were two pitches I wish I could have back. ... I'll continue to work on my delivery. For the most part I battled out there and got some tough outs."
Despite Kazmir's struggle to find the strike zone, Maddon complimented his performance.
"I really loved his tenacity tonight and he gave us a chance to win," Maddon said.
Gary Glover pitched a scoreless eighth inning leading to closer Al Reyes pitching the ninth. The Rays closer had not pitched since blowing his first save of the season Tuesday night in Arizona. But no lingering effects were evident when Reyes retired the first two hitters he faced before he issued a walk and a base hit to bring pinch-hitter Luis Gonzalez up with the tying run on third.
Gonzalez had homered and tripled Friday night, but Reyes struck out the Tampa, Fla., native to earn his 17th save in 18 tries for the season.
Remarkably, Rays pitchers allowed 11 hits, nine walks and a hit batter, yet just three runs as the Dodgers stranded 15 baserunners for the evening.
"Fifteen is too many people to leave on base and think you might win the game," Dodgers manager Grady Little said.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.