05/10/08 11:55 PM ET
Kazmir prevails in pitchers' duel
Hard-fought contest gives left-hander his first win of 2008
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
Saturday night's warm-and-fuzzy came from the crowd of 25,512 at the most critical moment of a 2-0 win over the Angels. The win extended the Rays' home winning streak to eight games, establishing a new club record. In doing so, the Rays moved to 20-16 on the season and claimed their 12th win in the past 17 games.
Clinging to a 1-0 lead established in the first when Evan Longoria drove in Akinori Iwamura on a fielder's choice, the Rays brought in Dan Wheeler to pitch the eighth, and the veteran right-hander walked the first two batters he faced, prompting a mound visit by manager Joe Maddon.
The discussion focused on whether the next hitter, Erick Aybar, would bunt.
"If they did [bunt], we were going to walk [Vladimir Guerrero] and try to get a ground ball out of [Torii] Hunter, and if we did, we knew Garret [Anderson] was going to be the next guy," Maddon said.
With the infield prepared for a bunt, Aybar ripped a shot that appeared destined for the right-field corner and extra bases. But Carlos Pena saved the day by diving to backhand the smash and recovering in time to beat the runner to the bag for the first out of the inning.
"I think they expected us to crash there, but I was actually surprised he didn't bunt," Pena said.
Wheeler then intentionally walked Guerrero as planned to bring Hunter to the plate, who popped out for the second out. Angels manager Mike Scioscia then elected to call on Anderson to pinch-hit for Juan Rivera. At that point, the roar from the crowd reached a crescendo.
"Let's go, Rays! Let's go, Rays!" echoed through Tropicana Field as if the Red Sox were in town and half of Boston had flown to St. Petersburg to watch.
"I took a second there, and I was thinking, 'This is awesome,'" Pena said. "And you just say to yourself, 'This is a great baseball town; this town is going to have our backs.' It was very exciting. I noticed it. I noticed it. I took a moment to take it all in."
Anderson then grounded out to Pena to end the threat and set off a raucous ovation.
"Once again, Wheels pulled a Houdini act to get out of some trouble," said Maddon, referencing Wheeler's Thursday night escape in Toronto. During that contest, which the Rays won, 8-3, in 13 innings, Wheeler allowed a leadoff triple in the 10th. If the run had scored, the game would have been over, but he pitched out of the jam.
"He's got a lot of heart," Pena said. "He got in a little bit of trouble [on Saturday night], but he didn't lose it; he said, 'OK, let's go to work.'"
Pena's sacrifice fly in the eighth scored Carl Crawford for a 2-0 Rays lead before Troy Percival retired the side in the ninth to preserve the win and earn his eighth save of the season.
Scott Kazmir started for the Rays and pitched six scoreless innings, limiting the Angels to three hits and three walks while striking out six to claim his first win of the season.
Kazmir's effort, combined with those of Edwin Jackson and James Shields, who started on Thursday and Friday, moved the Rays' starters' scoreless innings streak to 23.
"It's what we've planned to do since Spring Training -- just feed off each other," Kazmir said. "[We've] just got to try and keep the momentum going right now."
Joe Saunders took the loss for the Angels after winning his first six starts of the season, which came as a tough pill to swallow since he surrendered just one run in six innings.
"When you go 18 innings without scoring runs, it's going to be tough to get a win," Scioscia said.
Meanwhile, the Rays' starters seem to manage to keep getting it done.
"It's almost like they don't even need us to hit," Pena said.
Rays fans had a lot to celebrate on Saturday night, but the club seemed to celebrate the vocal assistance of the fans the most.
"It's exciting, you could feel the energy tonight," Wheeler said. "It's pretty good; I think they're starting to get into it. Hopefully, they are, and they'll keep coming back and showing us the support like tonight. ... [There were] a lot of fans here cheering just for us, and it was a good feeling."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.