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Pitching, power produce another win
By MARC TOPKIN
Published June 18, 2006
PHILADELPHIA - It took them wading through 21/2 months of the season, weathering a series of staggering injuries, trying a handful of lineup combinations and playing a couple of nights in a National League bandbox, but the Devil Rays think they've finally found the offense they've been desperately seeking.
Consider a second straight three-homer game, with Nos.2, 3 and 4 hitters Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and Jorge Cantu going deep.
Another night of double-digit hits, making it 25 in two games.
And another victory over the fading Phillies, 7-2 on Saturday.
"We've been waiting for this for awhile," manager Joe Maddon said. "We've always believed that we had this in us. It's been a little bit exasperating at times. But to our guys' credit, they've continued to battle. (Hitting coach) Steve Henderson keeps working with them. We thought that it would get better."
Making the night even better, the Rays (29-40) got an improved - albeit short - performance from Scott Kazmir, who won for the first time since May21.
"It was a good confidence booster, I guess you could say," Kazmir said.
Except for a three-pitch span in the second inning, when he allowed homers to the unlikely combo of Abraham Nunez and Sal Fasano on hanging sliders, Kazmir looked sharp, or at least sharper.
He struck out nine over five innings and allowed only the two runs, though he continued his recent habit of falling behind batters and throwing too many pitches - this time 96.
He might have worked one more inning, but the Phillies used the NL's no DH rules, intentionally walking No.8 hitter Toby Hall, to force Maddon to take him out in the sixth. It worked out, however, as pinch-hitter Jonny Gomes doubled in a run to make it 4-2.
"I understood," Kazmir said. "I wasn't swinging the bat too well."
The rest of the Rays were, though, the trip to Philadelphia having done wonders. After losing three of four in Detroit and drawing rare criticism from Maddon for their "disappointing" effort, the Rays have looked rejuvenated in cozy Citizens Bank Park against the accommodating Phillies, who have lost six straight and were booed throughout the night.
"I think we were due after facing Detroit," Baldelli said. "They've got some real good pitching. You're not going to see many teams' true colors when they're facing the Detroit pitching staff when their pitchers are on."
Maddon said Baldelli, who is hitting .350 in 10 games since returning from an extended injury absence, has been a big reason for the offensive improvement, especially since moving into the No.3 spot four games ago.
"Rocco's made a big difference," Maddon said. "Rocco's been kind of a catalyst."
Baldelli, whose first homer since Oct.1, 2004, put the Rays ahead to stay, said it was more of a team effort.
"I don't think it's one specific thing that's turning it around for us," he said. "I think when everyone gets together and we're playing at the same time and swinging well, it kind of helps us feed off each other. When everyone's in the lineup, you don't need one or two guys to get it done every night. I think we've got a pretty good lineup that can help each other out."