Kazmir speared by Boston
Rays fall into tie with Red Sox for first place in AL East
ST. PETERSBURG -- A battle for first place in the American League East never materialized on Monday night, as the Red Sox flexed their muscles early and often in a 13-5 route of the Rays in front of a crowd of 29,772 at Tropicana Field.
"They jumped us," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Pure and simple, they just beat us up tonight."
By losing, the Rays allowed the Red Sox to join them in the penthouse of the American League East with two games remaining in their final series against each other this season. This is the first time since the All-Star break that Tampa Bay has not had sole possession of first place, though the Rays remain .002 percentage points ahead in the standings at 88-60 (.595) compared to the Red Sox at 89-61 (.593).
"I've got [the Red Sox] ratcheting it up a little bit," Maddon said. "They are turning up the dial. Like I said before, they've been there. And I know that they can smell it. They can smell it, we can smell [it]. And again, it comes down to starting pitching. You have to pitch well at the beginning of the game to permit your team to get into it."
Scott Kazmir made his 25th start of the season for the Rays, and clearly, this one will be remembered as his worst to date -- and arguably the worst of his young career. The 24-year-old left-hander allowed nine runs in three-plus innings. From the outset, he struggled to find the strike zone, and finished having thrown just 39 strikes in 72 pitches during his shortest outing of the season.
And while Kazmir has struggled with his control on many occasions this season, opposing teams have not hit him as hard as the Red Sox did on Monday night.
"It just kind of felt like my body wasn't there, where you just kind of feel flat, didn't really have the strength that I wanted," Kazmir said. "If you don't have your stuff, you just have to go out there and battle. This start just didn't get it done, plain and simple."
Kazmir delivered nine straight balls to start the game, walking the first two batters before falling behind in the count, 1-0, to David Ortiz. After evening the count to 1-1, Ortiz hit Kazmir's next pitch into the right-field stands. One out later, Mike Lowell put one in the left-field stands for a 4-0 Red Sox lead.
Jason Bay and Jason Varitek added home runs in the fourth before a Coco Crisp double sent Kazmir to an early shower without even retiring a batter in the inning.
"When he threw it over the plate, they hit it hard and long," Maddon said.
For Kazmir, he allowed a career-high four home runs, he tied a career high by giving up nine earned runs and he's had just three shorter outings in his career.
"Anytime you're facing Kazmir, you know you have your hands full," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We did an exceptional job against him. He's certainly one of the best, if not the best, left-handers in the league."
Added Lowell: "[Kazmir] wasn't as efficient as he usually is. I think it was just a bad day. We all have them. I don't think the Rays are going to fear pitching him five days from now."
Maddon said Kazmir's mechanics looked fine, and he didn't think Kazmir reacted to the pennant pressure.
"Nothing out of the ordinary from what I've seen," Maddon said. "I just thought [he was] amped up [after his wild pitch to start the game]. Because Kaz really has done well in the big moments, he's pitched well at Fenway, he's pitched well in front of large crowds. ... Against better opposition, he's done very well."
Mitch Talbot took over for Kazmir in the fourth to make his Major League debut, but Boston continued to hit, as Kevin Youkilis added his 26th home run of the season. By the time Talbot struck out Bay to end the frame, the Red Sox had an 11-1 lead.
By the start of the sixth inning, Maddon had flipped most of the lineup, with center fielder Fernando Perez and Eric Hinske being the lone remaining starters in the contest. Both teams used a combined 38 players before the game was over, which was three shy of the most players used by both teams in a game involving the Rays.
"The score, where it was, the tone of the game and yesterday's game in New York was rather warm, and we'd just flown back, etc., etc.," said Maddon, explaining his decision. "A lot of the guys who came in to take their places have played a lot anyway. And sometimes you'd rather that group expend the energy in a game that's that lopsided. So for me, it was a rather easy decision."
The replacements did manage to score some runs, as Justin Ruggiano hit a two-run homer in the sixth and Dan Johnson added a two-run shot in the seventh.
For a team built around pitching and defense, Monday night's loss continued a disturbing trend that started on Sunday, when Edwin Jackson managed just two innings against the Yankees in an 8-4 loss. In the past two games, Rays starters have an 0-2 record with a 27.00 ERA while surrendering 12 hits, 15 earned runs and six home runs.
"We're playing good teams right now, and pitching and defense is our strong point," Maddon said. "We have to maintain that in order to get to where we want to be this year, there's no question."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.