Kazmir stifles Sox to join record books
Lefty first Ray to win five in a month; Balfour nets first save
ST. PETERSBURG -- With a different hero seemingly every night, the last day in May brought an onslaught of candidates for the Rays in a 2-0 win over the White Sox on Saturday night.
There was B.J. Upton, who delivered the winning RBI, and Cliff Floyd who notched a solo homer to give the club a little breathing room.
Reliever J.P. Howell -- who inherited a runner at second -- pitched two-thirds of an inning, striking out Chicago sluggers Jim Thome and Carlos Quentin to quash a threat in the eighth. And then there was Dan Wheeler, Trever Miller and Grant Balfour, who combined for an out each in the ninth inning -- with Balfour ultimately recording the save.
"That's the epitome of closer by committee," Miller said.
The lefty specialist credited the chess-like moves of manager Joe Maddon, who perhaps could be labeled the most unsung hero on Saturday night.
The game may have belonged to many, but the month of May was owned by starter Scott Kazmir.
The Rays' ace notched a club-record fifth win in May, as his seven-inning blanking of the South Siders lowered his ERA to an astonishing 1.22.
"He was wildly effective," Chicago's Joe Crede said. "He was able to locate the pitches when he needed, like when he was behind in the count or had a hitter at 3-2. He made pitches when he had to with guys on base."
That happened often, as the White Sox had a baserunner in six of Kazmir's seven innings. But the stoic southpaw never faltered, as he fanned six and extended his win streak to five games.
"Kaz was the name of the game tonight," Maddon said.
It is a mantra that is echoed every time the young hurler takes the mound.
Since losing his first start off the disabled list on May 4, Kazmir has pitched his way to a 0.55 ERA and three shutouts.
"You shoot to do what you can," said Kazmir of his record-breaking month. "All I try to do is keep the team in the game, it's all you can do."
Kazmir, who has gotten more comfortable with every start this season, says he still has room for improvement. His high pitch count -- 109 in seven innings -- drove him out of the game long before the Sox could. The lefty also noted that at times he felt as if he was "falling off the mound" a little bit.
"He said it the other day and I agree," Maddon said. "There's still another level for him to reach, and that's a good thing."
Backstop Dioner Navarro was impressed nonetheless.
"He was great tonight," he said. "He kept battling and gave us a chance to win."
Navarro said Kazmir's high pitch tally was mostly a result of foul-ball pitches, and fully expects the southpaw to continue his dominance.
"He keeps getting better and better," Navarro added. "Hopefully he just keeps it up throughout the season."
The same can be said for the bullpen, as five different hurlers collected the Rays' final six outs. In the wake of closer Troy Percival's stay on the 15-day DL, the bullpen's cumulative effort helped keep the White Sox bats at bay.
"I have no problem with any of these guys coming in," Maddon said. "I think any of them can get the last out."
That duty was reserved for the newest addition to the Rays, as Balfour was recalled from Triple-A Durham following Thursday's game.
The righty got Brian Anderson to fly out to center to secure the win, notching the first save of his career and putting the finishing touches on the Rays' first winning May.
"We're very confident, it feels like we can win every game," Kazmir said. "We really as a team knew we had something special coming into Spring Training and now we're putting it all together."
That thought wasn't lost on Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, a former Ray himself.
"I never thought I would see so many here watching us play," Guillen said of Saturday's sellout crowd at Tropicana Field. "It was real nice to see all those fans. It was a great baseball game, a great game for them, and that's the way baseball should be played."
Regardless of whom the hero may be.
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.