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Mets receding in Kazmir's rear view

DAMIAN CRISTODERO and MARC TOPKIN
Published September 14, 2004

Scott Kazmir survived his first trip to New York relatively unscathed.

Okay, so the Devil Rays left-hander still has some issues with pitch command. But after giving up just two hits in three innings to a powerful Yankees lineup, Kazmir said he hopes all the hoopla surrounding his trade from the Mets is over.

"I just feel like I don't want to be the guy to point at," he said. "It just feels like with the Mets, whatever their problem is, don't involve me."

That has been difficult given Kazmir's circumstances. Once thought untouchable within the organization, the Mets traded him for Victor Zambrano. Well, Zambrano is hurt and Kazmir, 20, with a high 90s fastball, has become the cause celebre for a legion of disgruntled Mets fans.

Kazmir said he has gotten a slew of supportive letters and e-mails.

"That was the hardest part of the trade," he said, "leaving the fans."

But as far as any attachment to the Mets, Kazmir said that is over. The Mets made the split easier by feeding to the media stories about Kazmir's supposed bad attitude.

"Before my first game with the Devil Rays, it kind of felt like I was just going through the motions, like I was in shock," Kazmir said. "But after the first start, everything just went away. It was a lot easier. I'm a Devil Ray and I'm happy with the spot I'm in right now."

"He's a good kid," Rays manager Lou Piniella said. "And I'll tell you one thing, he competes. He'll show his rough edges, and he has, but that's all right. I'm not complaining about that."

And Kazmir is not complaining about his first visit to Yankee Stadium and his first relief appearance as a professional.

Brought into the fourth inning of Game 1 of Thursday's doubleheader with the bases loaded and no outs, Kazmir walked in a run but struck out Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams to end the threat. He struck out Derek Jeter in the fifth.

And don't forget the visit to Monument Park.

"Ever since I got up here everything has been a dream," said Kazmir, 1-1 with a 5.63 ERA, 17 strikeouts and 13 walks in 16 innings. "I can't even describe what it's like in the dugout. A-Rod ( Alex Rodriguez) is beside you and you're watching Jeter."

MORE KAZMIR: The first batter he faced was Ichiro Suzuki. He pitched at Yankee Stadium. Tonight is a showdown with Boston's Pedro Martinez at Fenway Park. To say Kazmir's time with the Rays has been a whirlwind is an understatement.

"I'm loving it," he said. "What more can you ask for? I never thought this would happen."

HERO WORSHIP: If you didn't see B.J. Upton's sparkling play at shortstop in Game 2 of the doubleheader, you missed one of the finest plays of the season. Upton went deep into the hole to backhand Rodriguez's ground ball and threw across his body to get the out at first.

"God almighty," Piniella said. "I don't know where in the hell that came from, but it was nice to see."

Even better for Upton was that his idol, Jeter, watched from second base, and Upton said he knew it.

"I watched him play a lot," Upton said. "I follow who I wanted to be like."

As for the play, Upton said, "I just go out there and try to field it, throw it and get an out."

Most impressive was the way Upton threw a pea across his body without jumping to swivel toward first. The play also was notable because Upton was moved from shortstop after making five errors in 11 games after his callup from Triple-A Durham.

He has played there recently only when Julio Lugo is given a rest.

"It's just instinct," Upton said of the play that the Rays surely will show over and over on the Trop's scoreboard. "It just kind of happened. It's not like I planned it."

MISCELLANY: The Rays are close to a deal to renew their short-season Class A affiliation with the Hudson Valley, N.Y., team. A four-year deal is expected to be announced this week. The Rays are also exploring options about returning to the Class A Florida State League, which has potential openings in Brevard, Fort Myers and Sarasota. ... One or two players are likely to be called up today from Triple-A Durham, which ended its season Sunday with a loss in the playoffs. ... The Rays are still waiting to hear about a possible makeup game on Sept. 23 in New York.

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