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Cantu can do as Rays bounce Orioles

RAYS 6, ORIOLES 1: The second baseman homers twice and Scott Kazmir evens his record at 9-9.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published September 17, 2005

BALTIMORE - Jorge Cantu said his left elbow is still a little sore, and he can't completely extend it.

But after the Devil Rays second baseman had three hits, including a pair of home runs, in Friday night's 6-1 victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards, he said, "I guess it's fine."

Or at least of little consequence.

Cantu, who missed Thursday's game after he was hit in the elbow Wednesday by a pitch from New York's Tanyon Sturtze, has a team-high 25 home runs. His 105 RBIs are two off Aubrey Huff's club record.

And he set a Tampa Bay mark with his fourth two-homer game of the season.

"Unbelievable," starter Scott Kazmir said. "He just looks so comfortable at the plate. I've never seen anyone so right there with everything. He always has his game plan right on point."

Said manager Lou Piniella: "(Catcher) Toby Hall said he'd like to get hit in the elbow a couple of times."

The game was good for Tampa Bay after a homestand in which it lost five of six and was swept by the Yankees. The win snapped the Rays' six-game losing streak in Baltimore and evened their road record since the All-Star break at 15-15.

"There are three weeks left," Cantu said. "We're going to finish strong."

He had plenty of help.

Leftfielder Carl Crawford hit his 14th home run and had three RBIs. Shortstop Julio Lugo had three hits, including two doubles, and Damon Hollins made a noteworthy catch in rightfield.

Then there was Kazmir, who pitched six innings and allowed one run on two hits, struck out four and improved to 9-9 with a 3.77 ERA. Had the left-hander not walked five, which helped push his pitch count to 101, he would certainly have gone longer.

Things got a little tricky in the ninth when Lugo's error and Jesus Colome's two walks loaded the bases with one out. Danys Baez wrapped up the combined five-hitter with his career-high 36th save.

But it was Cantu who really stole the show. And it wasn't even clear he would play until he took some early swings in the batting cage and declared himself ready.

He donned an elbow pad worn last season by Robert Fick (there obviously was no bad mojo left to rub off) and singled in the first inning, homered in the third off starter Rodrigo Lopez and again in the seventh off Aaron Rakers.

"Actually I am a little bit surprised," Cantu said of his 25 homers. "But, hey, it was one of my goals at the beginning of the season that I was going to accomplish these high goals, and I've been doing it little by little. So even higher goals for next year."

And for this year as three more RBIs sets the team record.

"I just keep playing and wait to reach that mark," Cantu said. "Once I get it, I'll be really proud of myself and proud of everybody because without them it couldn't be done."

Piniella agreed and noted the game's most important contributors (Cantu, Crawford and Kazmir) are 23, 24 and 21.

"We've been playing these kids all along," Piniella said. "Tonight was a pretty good preview of the future for this organization."

"I can see that in a big way," Cantu said. "With this core of young players we have here, if we find a little bit of consistency, we're going to have a great team."

Perhaps, but there's no doubt Cantu has had a great year.

[Last modified September 17, 2005, 02:15:31]

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