tampabay.com

Jays succeed where Rays fail

Toronto punches through as Tampa Bay hitters flail.

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published May 12, 2007


TORONTO - This wasn't exactly the irresistible force against the immovable object - just a pair of struggling teams looking to find their bearings while trying to stay out of the American League East cellar.

If there was a team in desperate need of a win, it was the Blue Jays, having gone 0-for-May, losing all nine games this month while dealing with a rash of devastating injuries.

But there were the Devil Rays, hoping to leave the memories of a sweep in Baltimore and four straight losses at customs.

They finally took a lead after the first inning thanks to Elijah Dukes' homer - his sixth of the season to lead all AL rookies - to leftfield off Jays starter A.J. Burnett, but the Rays didn't score after that, going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and falling to the Blue Jays 5-1 on Friday night at Rogers Centre.

Rays ace Scott Kazmir was unspectacular. The 23-year-old left-hander seemed to be straining, slightly frustrated that he wasn't getting strike calls.

"I just didn't get it done, bottom line," Kazmir said. "It was tough to get a strike on a certain part of the plate, but what are you gonna do? You've just got to go out there and battle."

But his hitters didn't help him in the clutch, stranding six runners in scoring position in the first five innings. The Rays had Burnett on the ropes, taking advantage of his high leg kick to steal a season-high four bases as a team.

"We had a lot of chances," said Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford, who had two singles, a walk and two stolen bases. "We just didn't get that big hit we needed. We threatened a few times and got close, but we just couldn't get that two-out hit that we needed. We just didn't get that big break."

Kazmir allowed just one hit in his first 3 2/3 innings, but the Jays took the lead in the fourth on catcher Jason Phillips' two-out, two-run double off Kazmir. Toronto tacked on another run in the sixth on first baseman Carlos Pena's error that allowed shortstop Aaron Hill to score.

Alex Rios' homer and Vernon Wells' double down the leftfield line chased Kazmir - who struck out six and walked three - from the game after having allowed a season-high nine hits. Shawn Camp allowed Wells to score on a single by Jason Smith, who entered in the second inning after third baseman Troy Glaus injured his leg while running to first in the first inning.

Meanwhile, Burnett struck out a season-high 10 batters.

"He was actually spotting that ball low and away pretty well," Pena said. "He was consistent. He got a lot of calls that way. ... We just couldn't hold up our end of the deal."

But now, the Rays and Jays are tied for last in the division with identical 14-21 records. A week ago, the Rays were just two games under .500. Now they're in the middle of a road trip that they might look back on and see where the season was lost.

"We've got to come back tomorrow and forget what happened today, playing hard and being aggressive and not making little mistakes, stuff like that," Crawford said.

"That's the only way we have a chance to break this spell."