Seo gives Rays a big reason to be patient

The scuffling starter pitches a stellar seven innings to snap the club's six-game skid.

Published May 14, 2007

TORONTO - Trying to figure out what has been wrong with pitcher Jae Seo this season has been maddening for Rays manager Joe Maddon and his staff.

After his most recent start Tuesday, Maddon could only resort to shoulder-shrugging to explain why Seo had pitched so poorly the first six weeks of the season.

Sunday, however, with his team desperate for a win to avoid back-to-back sweeps on this six-game road trip, Seo gave Maddon reason to be optimistic, pitching his best game in his nearly 23 months in a Rays uniform and leading Tampa Bay to a 2-1 victory, one that saved face on this road trip and salvaged promise in the 29-year-old Seo.

The win halted a six-game losing streak and put the Rays and Jays in a tie for fourth place in the AL East with 15-22 records.

"He just made better pitches, " Maddon said, "better pitches in better spots. The results were good. ... I know he's very competitive and I really try to avoid snap judgments. He has been back and forth. He knows that. We all know that. But he had that kind of game in him, too, and brought it out today when we really needed it."

Seo, a pitcher who relies on command of his fastball and changeup, found his control Sunday. He retired 14 of the first 15 batters and didn't allow a hit until Royce Clayton's double to left-centerfield, which was just out of leftfielder Carl Crawford's reach. Seo, who entered leading the majors with 37 runs allowed, pitched seven shutout innings and allowed just two hits, striking out a season-high seven and walking two.

"I'm just throwing, " Seo said. "Last game, it was too much thinking."

Seo continued his success against the Blue Jays. He owns a 0.90 ERA against the Blue Jays in three career starts.

Blue Jays fill-in starter Shawn Marcum, normally a reliever, was just as sharp. He threw six innings of no-hit ball, striking out seven before he was pulled after throwing 78 pitches.

Runs were scarce. And Rays first baseman Carlos Pena provided the clutch hits that ended up being the difference.

Pena, who has emerged from last-minute roster fill-in to the hottest hitter in a slumping lineup, broke a scoreless tie in the seventh inning with a solo homer to left-centerfield off reliever Jason Frasor. It was his second homer in as many games, following Saturday's solo shot to center.

The Rays added what turned out to be an important insurance run in the ninth. With runners on first and third with two outs, Pena hit a ball deep to the hole between first and second. Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay backhanded the grounder and sped to the bag. Pitcher Brian Tallet was late covering, and Pena slid headfirst into first, touching the base with his left hand before Overbay could step on the bag. The single scored Carl Crawford from third.

After Rays reliever Brian Stokes pitched a scoreless eighth, closer Al Reyes entered in the ninth and allowed a leadoff homer to Matt Stairs before retiring three straight for his 11th save.

"What a great game, " Pena said. "It was definitely a pitchers' duel out there. Both guys did a great job. Seo went out there and pitched his heart out and he deserved to win. I bet it was fun to watch. It was fun to play in. The best part is that we came out on top."