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09/28/07 12:14 AM ET

Kazmir strikes out 10 in loss to Yanks

Lefty grabs Major League K lead from Twins' Santana

ST. PETERSBURG -- Even though the Rays took a 3-1 loss to the Yankees in the home finale on Thursday night, the prospect of next year looked promising in defeat.

Starter Scott Kazmir demonstrated once again why he is one of the top young pitchers in baseball.

Kazmir moved to the top of Major League Baseball's strikeout list on Thursday night after recording 10. After Robinson Cano became the seventh victim when he swung and missed for the second out in the fifth, the left-hander received a standing ovation when the scoreboard flashed: "Kazmir now leads the ML with 236 strikeouts."

"With the fans behind you like that, it really made it special for me," Kazmir said.

Kazmir entered the game trailing Minnesota's Johan Santana by six strikeouts and San Diego's Jake Peavy by five.

"Right now we'll see how it goes," said Kazmir about the prospect of winning the strikeout crown. "Hopefully, those guys don't come in late. It was a good year."

Manager Joe Maddon has been indifferent about Kazmir's chances, but clearly he hopes the final outcome favors his pitcher.

"That's a wonderful achievement on his part," Maddon said. "But who knows if they're going to pitch Santana on the last day of the season or not. If he's able to maintain that lead, it's quite an achievement for him and us."

The 10-strikeout performance was Kazmir's sixth this season and the 14th of his career. He closed out the fifth by fanning Jose Molina to strike out the side.

Johnny Damon's one-out double off Kazmir in the sixth tied the score at 1, but Kazmir finished off his six-inning stint -- and his 2007 season -- by striking out Wilson Betemit and Hideki Matsui. He threw 100 pitches, 72 of them for strikes, and did not walk a batter.

"He's been doing that for the last month," Maddon said. "He's been throwing with that kind of velocity, with that kind of location. He was very good. ... I just like the body of work over the last month, maybe a little more than a month. He's just gotten sharper, with a better delivery. Better command. Better pitch quality. And it's nice to see him do that tonight."

Kazmir struggled during the first half of the season when he tinkered with starting his windup from different sides of the rubber before finally settling in and beginning on the third-base side.

"Right after the end of the first half," Kazmir said, "I went back to what was working before. I picked up where I left off and felt really good."

Kazmir finished the season with a club record 3.48 ERA, bettering Rolando Arrojo's previous mark of 3.56, set in 1998. But he fell short of tying Arrojo's team record of 14 wins in a season.

Jon Switzer took over for Kazmir in the seventh and surrendered a single to Shelley Duncan, followed by a Cano double. Molina then singled through the middle off Gary Glover to score two and put the Yankees up, 3-1.

Carlos Pena hit his 44th home run in the fourth off Yankees starter Phil Hughes to give the Rays a 1-0 lead. The blast gave him 11 home runs for September, which ties Jonny Gomes' club record, set in April 2006.

"There's a lot of good stuff going on out here," Maddon said. "The record, we'd like it to be better, absolutely. For me, this was a tough loss tonight. I wanted us to be able to play .500 against the Yankees this year. That's a nice little benchmark. But it didn't happen. But there's been a lot of good personal achievement this year. We'd like to make that into team achievement next year."

Added Kazmir: "Teamwise, the record doesn't show what we've accomplished this year. But there's always next year, and we're really looking forward to it."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.