04/25/07 1:04 AM ET
Crawford leads Rays to sweep of Yanks
Left fielder crushes first career grand slam in win
By Chris Girandola / MLB.com
"Yeah, definitely," Crawford said emphatically following his 4-for-4 night, which included his first career grand slam. "I think anybody can get used to it if it happens enough."
The Rays swept the Yankees to take their first series since winning two of three over the Mariners at home last Sept. 1-3.
It is just the second sweep in Rays history and the first since they won all three games from Sept. 26-28, 2000. The win also vaulted Tampa Bay (9-11) into fourth place in the American League East, whereas New York (8-11) lost its fifth straight game and slipped into the division cellar.
Crawford came to plate in the seventh inning after the Yankees had taken a 3-2 lead in the top half of the frame. After Jonny Gomes struck out, Dioner Navarro reached on a single off Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang, who was making his season debut. B.J. Upton then ripped a double to right center that sent Navarro went to third.
Luis Vizcaino replaced Wang and intentionally walked Rocco Baldelli. Brendan Harris followed with a hard liner to Miguel Cairo, who was playing shortstop in place of the injured Derek Jeter, who exited after the first after taking a Scott Kazmir pitch to the left thigh.
The Yankees then brought in veteran left-hander Mike Myers to face Crawford. The submarine-throwing lefty fooled Crawford a couple of times with his sweeping breaking ball. On a 2-2 count, the 25-year-old outfielder reached down and across the plate to smack a ball low in the strike zone just beyond the fences in right field.
"I was just trying to put the ball in play," said Crawford, who also stole his fourth base of the season in the game. "I was just glad to hit it. That's probably the best home run I ever hit. That was an important home run."
Crawford said that the home run might springboard him after his slow start to the season -- he was batting .247 with 10 RBIs coming into the game. But he reveled in the fact that he received a curtain call, despite being a bit nervous.
"I don't feel comfortable doing that stuff," he said. "It's just one of those things. Last year I had a game like this in Toronto where I went 5-for-5, so I hope this will help me get going for the rest of the year."
The night started ominously enough, with Kazmir nailing Jeter on his fifth pitch of the game, knocking the shortstop out of the game with a bruised left thigh.
"There was no malicious intent whatsoever," said manager Joe Maddon. "I really have a lot of respect for [Jeter]. You have to pitch Jeter inside, and sometimes you're going to hit him. That's just part of the game."
With Kazmir battling the flu, it appeared as though the Devil Rays were in for a long night. But despite a noticeable decrease in velocity, the 23-year-old left-hander settled down, fanning Bobby Abreu for the second out of the inning and then, after walking Alex Rodriguez, striking out Jason Giambi to end the first.
Kazmir surrendered a leadoff homer to Hideki Matsui in the second but, after giving up a single to Jorge Posada, recorded three consecutive outs to escape further damage.
"I was just pouring sweat in those first two innings," said Kazmir, who allowed three runs, one earned, on five hits over 6 2/3 innings. "By the third I was just going on pure adrenaline. It was just a case of battling every pitch."
Kazmir found his groove and cruised through the next four innings without allowing a run.
The Rays gave their southpaw a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning off Wang, who started the season on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring. Crawford collected his second hit of the night with a leadoff single and then, after stealing second, went to third on Ty Wigginton's infield single. Crawford came in to score on a groundout by Delmon Young, with Wigginton going to second. Carlos Pena plated Wigginton with a single to left.
The effects of the flu came back to haunt Kazmir in the seventh inning. After forcing Giambi into a flyout to start the inning, Kazmir got Matsui to hit a weak grounder back to the mound on the very next pitch. The lefty, though, tossed a low, soft throw to first that bounced off Pena's glove. Jorge Posada then ripped a double to right-center to score Matsui.
After getting Robinson Cano to ground out, Kazmir gave up his third run of the game when Josh Phelps singled to left. Kazmir, who tossed 108 pitches -- 59 for strikes -- then allowed another single, to Johnny Damon, forcing Maddon to go to the bullpen.
Juan Salas entered the game and forced Cairo into an inning-ending flyout to right.
After Crawford's heroics, the relief corps did their job for the second consecutive game. After Jae Kuk-Ryu walked Abreu to start the eighth, Shawn Camp struck out Rodriguez on three straight pitches. After Abreu stole second, Camp forced Giambi into a groundout to second. Camp's only blemish came when Matsui squeezed a single just past Upton into right field, plating Abreu and bringing the Yankees to within two runs. But the 31-year-old right-hander ended the inning when he got Posada to ground out to Pena.
"Salas got the big out with Cairo," said Maddon. "Camper's sinker's back, and that's the biggest difference. He's throwing that real lead-pipe sinker again. You can really see it from the side, and it's just dropping off the table. It's all complementary and, of course, his confidence is rising."
Al Reyes then closed out the game with a perfect ninth that included two strikeouts.
Though Maddon wouldn't go so far as to say that Reyes officially is his closer, the skipper did admit that his team is rounding into shape.
"Our guys have a lot of fight in them right now, and the energy is fantastic," he said. "I really felt we believed we were going to win that game tonight. That's a nice vibe to have in the dugout when you're in a tight game like that against a team like that, that's a good thing.
"Right now we're on a nice little roll. I like what we're doing, and we have to maintain this calm and this confidence. As the season gets deeper, if there's anything I want to monitor, it's that type of mind-set."
And if that happens, Crawford and the rest of the Rays may be taking plenty more curtain calls. And be perfectly content in doing so.
Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.