06/07/08 1:16 AM ET
Kazmir gives Dad a happy birthday
Ace dominant over eight; Longoria's clout one of four dingers
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
When all was said and done, the Rangers wished the Rays' left-hander would have bonded with his father rather than make his seventh start of the season. With the Rays reeling from a Willy Loman road trip to Boston, Kazmir stepped up for the Rays and did what No. 1 starters are supposed to do: stop losing streaks.
Kazmir held the Rangers to two runs on six hits in eight innings to lead a 12-4 Rays win, snapping a three-game losing streak in front of a crowd of 21,783. Meanwhile, the Mariners defeated the Red Sox, allowing the Rays to move within a half-game of first place in the American League East.
Kazmir now has won his last six starts, establishing a new club record while lowering his ERA to 1.40 on the season.
"Everybody can look at it, we scored a bunch of runs, but it was all about Kaz tonight," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We could not have done it tonight without him. The way he pitched tonight against that ballclub was spectacular. And it permitted us to stay in the game and score all those runs in the last few innings."
Texas entered the game having scored eight or more runs in six consecutive games, something the Rangers had never done in more than four consecutive games. Their red-hot bats hit ice water against Kazmir.
"He pounded the strike zone with everything," Rangers outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "He got his off-speed pitches over, and was still throwing 95-96 [miles per hour] in the eighth inning. That's why he's the ERA leader in the American League."
Afterwards, Kazmir smiled about his father's decision to watch on TV, which stemmed from his being superstitious. Kazmir added that he will need to change his father's mind for future outings. Judging from Friday night's performance, Kazmir could play with a black cat underneath a leaning ladder and still come out OK.
Perhaps the most appreciated facet of Kazmir's performance was the rest he gave the bullpen.
"We had guys available, but to give everybody a rest like that and get everybody back up to speed by tomorrow, that was huge," Maddon said. "Going into tomorrow's game, we feel comfortable using all those guys [in the bullpen]."
Added Rays reliever Trever Miller: "Anytime a starter goes eight, it's huge for the bullpen."
While Kazmir put on an awe-inspiring show, Evan Longoria caused some eye-popping of his own when he led off the fifth inning with a 442-foot home run into the club level in left field.
"Yeah, I hit that one pretty good," Longoria said about his eighth home run of the season. "That's as good as I can hit a ball. ... It was square off the barrel, pretty much as hard as I could swing, one of those."
In the 15-year history of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, just one other player from the opposing team had ever reached that spot -- Mark McGwire, who accomplished the feat on July 5, 1997.
"Just a [mammoth] shot," said Kazmir of Longoria's homer. "That thing was a bomb. Hit very well, very, very well."
And according to Kazmir, Longoria got short-changed on the distance.
"Definitely, visiting ballpark," Kazmir said.
Longoria's blast was the first of a home run parade that also included shots by B.J. Upton, Dioner Navarro, and Eric Hinske on a night when the offense produced 13 hits.
Baseball mentality is all about "never too high, never too low" and "you've got to take one game at a time." But a win in the Rays' 61st game of the season held more significance given the way the team took it on the chin in Boston.
"We do need to get [the Boston series] out of our heads and just look forward," Kazmir said. "Because we've got something special here, and we don't want to ruin it just because of what happened [during the first part of the road trip]."
Indeed, Friday night was a significant win for the Rays, as well as a pretty nice present for a left-hander to give his old man on his 55th birthday.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.