Kazmir's pinpoint control vanishes
Rays' ace tagged with loss after short five-inning outing
ST. PETERSBURG -- It seemed as though Scott Kazmir could do nothing right. He allowed just two earned runs, but it was one too many. He fanned nine, but it wasn't quite enough. His pitch count was high, his control low and it all would add up to nothing good.
Rays manager Joe Maddon thought differently.
"Overall, I thought he did really well," said Maddon. "He gave us a great chance to win, and he's throwing the ball really well right now."
When Maddon said prior to Friday night's game that he wouldn't let Kazmir throw more than 100 pitches, he probably didn't think his lefty would be more than halfway there after three innings.
But that's what happened at Tropicana Field. Kazmir battled a bit like he hadn't in a while, and the pennant-hungry Red Sox took advantage and downed the Rays, 8-1.
"When you play this time of year and you play against teams that actually have a chance at going to the dance, there's a different feeling, no doubt," Maddon said.
Kazmir managed to come out of the first and second innings with an unearned run as damage, but it was the third where he appeared to lose most of the control on his pinpoint fastball Maddon had praised just hours before.
The 23-year-old plunked Eric Hinske with a pitch to lead off the third inning, a fairly accurate foreshadowing of what was to come. Kazmir fanned the next hitter and walked the third, then gave up an RBI single to David Ortiz to break the 1-1 deadlock. Mike Lowell went down swinging for the second out, and that's when the control faltered.
A wild pitch from Kazmir allowed another run to score and make it 3-1 Boston. Bobby Kielty then walked. One batter later, Kazmir hit Jason Varitek on the left elbow with a pitch to load the bases. Eventually, Tampa Bay's ace pulled himself up by the bootstraps to fan Coco Crisp to end the inning, but the damage was already done: Kazmir was at 56 pitches.
"It was just that one inning. ... Hitting Hinske was definitely something I wish I didn't do," Kazmir said. "Putting him on like that kind of put the momentum toward those guys.
"I wish I could've had that one back."
Kazmir again dug himself into trouble in the fifth inning, when he walked the bases loaded with one out. Again, Kazmir clawed his way out with back-to-back strikeouts.
But it was too late: the fifth frame marked Kazmir's final on the rubber.
The brief outing, control issues and resulting loss took away from what should've been a great night for Kazmir. He entered the game just six punchouts shy of the Majors' lead in the category, and hit his mark in the final out of the third when Crisp came up empty on a big third-strike swing.
"Walks are going to kill you," Kazmir said afterward. "If I take those walks away, it might be a different ballgame."
He'd add a few more strikeouts before hitting the showers with a curious line: Nine Ks and 91 pitches under his belt, four scattered hits, four walks, two earned runs, two hit batters and a wild pitch.
Kazmir didn't have much time to revel in his accomplishment, as Twins ace Johann Santana, who entered his Friday start tied with Kazmir at 220, struck out his ninth and 10th hitters in the sixth inning of his game to pass Kazmir on the list.
"I literally got on my knees and begged [Maddon] to let me go back out there [for the sixth inning]," Kazmir said. "But he was already set."
There were other bright spots in the outing: Kazmir became the fourth Rays player in franchise history to reach the 200-innings plateau. His nine strikeouts also gave him 600 for his career, which made him just the seventh lefty in history to reach that number before age 24.
But Kazmir couldn't do it alone on Friday, and his teammates did very little to aid the cause. Catcher Dioner Navarro was credited with two errors in the first two innings alone, both on attempted steals, which resulted in extra bases.
Boston got on the board in the first inning, when Navarro fired a laser down to third in an attempt to pick off Jacoby Ellsbury, but the throw went wide and Ellsbury was able to scamper home. Later, Navarro tried to gun down Crisp at second, but the ball bounced on the front of the base and careened into the outfield, permitting Crisp an extra bag.
There were few bright spots, though none of them enough to change the final outcome. The Rays pitching as a group fanned 17 Red Sox, which tied a club record set on Sept. 12, 1999, against Oakland. Carlos Pena drew his 91st walk in the second inning to tie the franchise record set by Fred McGriff in 2000.
But when it came down to it, Tampa Bay put just one runner across the plate, on a first-inning RBI double from Delmon Young in the first inning.
On the opposite side, the Red Sox had a bit more to celebrate than just the win. Starter Josh Beckett became the Majors' first 20-game winner, as he yielded just one run on four hits over six innings. The right-hander fanned eight and issued two walks. On offense, Boston's last five consecutive runs -- one credited to Varitek, one to Lowell and three more to Ortiz -- came off of homers.
"They're definitely playing to go somewhere," Maddon said.
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.