tampabay.com

Late show is full of drama

After Kazmir strikes out 11, Rays cap an 8-run rally with a slam - and the pen works.

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published June 13, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Since Scott Kazmir joined to the big leagues, he has only asked a handful of colleagues for their autographs.

"Only the Hall of Famers, " Kazmir said with a smile, shortly after the 23-year-old left-hander said he'd seek out Padres pitcher Greg Maddux for his signature before this interleague series with San Diego was over.

Kazmir first had to share the mound with the Padres' 338-game winner. And Maddux, who had pitched at Tropicana Field just twice entering Tuesday, still made St. Petersburg look like home. But the San Diego bullpen couldn't hold a lead for Maddux.

The Rays scored eight unanswered runs in their last two innings, preventing career win No. 339 for Maddux and earning an 11-4 win over the NL West-leading Padres.

"The attitude in the dugout is so good that we know we're in the game and the way we scored runs late against a very good bullpen is very encouraging, " Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We're playing it hard and we're giving ourselves a chance to win.

The Rays (29-33) won their third straight and their seventh win out of their past nine -- Tampa Bay blew big late-inning leads in the other two games.

This time the maligned Rays bullpen put an exclamation mark on the win, as relievers Casey Fossum, Gary Glover and Shawn Camp each pitched a scoreless inning and each sent the Padres down in order.

"I like that we're not getting satisfied with it, " Maddon said. "I'm seeing resilience and people wanting to go for the jugular."

With the bases loaded and two outs and trailing 4-3 in the seventh, Greg Norton hit a sharp one-hopper to first off reliever Cla Meredith that skipped up off Adrian Gonzalez's glove and into right-centerfield, scoring two runs - including the eventual winning run - and pacing a three-run seventh inning for the Rays.

First baseman Carlos Pena, who hit a run-scoring double in the seventh, then capped the Rays' five-run eighth with his fourth career grand slam, a shot to center off Doug Brocail. Pena's homer was his team-leading 14th of the season and his fourth in his past nine games.

"We've got something going, " Pena said. "It gave our pitching staff a lot of room to work with. We feed off each other. It's no surprise to me that we're swinging the bats that well."

Kazmir tied his career high with 11 strikeouts despite battling a ballooning pitch count and a finicky strike zone by home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi.

"You've just got to hang with him, " Kazmir said. "It's just frustrating, but we battled back and it shows they type of team that we are."

Kazmir didn't get a strike call on a 2-and-2 pitch to the Padres' Kevin Kouzmanoff with a runner on first and one out in the sixth. The at-bat ended in a single, setting the stage for Khalil Greene's run-scoring double to tie it at 3.

Kouzmanoff, who moved to third on the double, then scored when Kazmir uncorked a wild pitch past catcher Dioner Navarro. Kazmir rushed the mound and blocked the plate with his right foot, but he dropped Navarro's throw and took a cleat to his right heel, which dropped Kazmir to his knees momentarily.

"Kazmir did a great job, " Pena said. "He was going against a Hall of Famer. I think we have one of our own here. Not to put any pressure on him."

Kazmir had his left hand wrapped after the game, straining a muscle between his index and middle finger as a result of catching himself as he fell blocking the plate. Kazmir said the injury wouldn't keep him out of his next start.

Now, he just needs to score that autograph.

"You look up to guys like that, " Kazmir said of Maddux. "It's just fun to face a superstar like that."