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Kazmir spells out message in K's
Irked by pitch counts, the ace strikes out a club-record 13.
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published August 26, 2007
[Times photo: Edmund D. Fountain]
After struggling with his pitch count for most of the season, Scott Kazmir struck out a Rays-record 13 batters Saturday night and had a chance for the complete game. "It's a good feeling to look up (at the scoreboard) after seven innings and not see triple digits up there," Kazmir said. "I just felt like I had everything going."
ST. PETERSBURG - Scott Kazmir beat everything but the pitch count Saturday night.
Kazmir fell short of the much-desired complete game, but that was the only blemish on a dazzling and dominating night as he struck out a team-record 13 in the Devil Rays' 14-3 rout of the A's.
"My goodness, from the first pitch he was on his game," manager Joe Maddon said. "That was a great performance. That was the best I've seen him in regards to stuff, number of pitches thrown, the strikeouts, no walks. I loved the strike-throwing, I loved the aggressiveness."
Kazmir struck out the first five and eight of the first 11. He didn't walk any and, most strikingly, kept his pitch count down by throwing strikes. He threw 105 pitches over the eight-plus innings, with six of 12 or fewer pitches, including six in the fifth, and 34 over a four-inning span.
The team-imposed pitch limits have been a source of frustration for Kazmir, who as a result of getting close to or over 100 pitches had been taken out of games after six innings or less 16 times in his first 27 starts.
But the Rays - determined to protect a 23-year-old ace whose 2006 season was shortened by shoulder problems - had their reasons. Kazmir went into Saturday's game having thrown the third-most pitches in the majors 2,894, averaging the most per inning (17.8) and the fourth-most per game (107.2).
Maddon has made exceptions, especially when a complete game is possible. After watching James Shields work into the ninth on Friday - throwing 114 - Kazmir was determined to get an opportunity of his own.
"It's a good feeling to look up (at the scoreboard) after seven innings and not see triple digits up there," Kazmir said. "I just felt like I had everything going."
As good as Kazmir was, he didn't do it alone. The resurgent Rays hitters stayed red-hot, pounding out a season-high 20 hits, with everyone but Carl Crawford getting at least two.
And there was some dazzling defense. B.J. Upton made his nightly highlight-reel running catch in center, and third baseman Akinori Iwamura and shortstop Josh Wilson made dazzlers.
Kazmir relied more heavily than usual on his fastball, which had an extra kick, clocking regularly in the 93-95 mph range, throwing fewer sliders and changeups.
"He was pumped up early," Oakland's Mike Piazza said. "He's throwing 95 and up in the zone. It's tough to catch up to."
Kazmir notched his record 13th strikeout - breaking a record shared by Shields and Dan Wheeler - on a check-swing call on Shannon Stewart for the final out of the eighth on his 97th pitch.
He tipped his cap to the appreciative crowd as he walked off, high-fived his teammates and figured he was done. But when he realized Maddon wasn't there to congratulate him on a good night's work, he quickly went to the far end of the dugout. "I kind of went and hid a little bit,"' he said.
Maddon gave him the chance to complete the game, but, after the long eighth as the Rays scored five, he gave up a leadoff homer to Jack Hannahan and a single - well, at least in the eyes of third-base umpire Mike Winters, who ruled Crawford didn't make what looked like a sliding catch - and he was done. Maddon said he would have left him in had there been an out.
"In a small way it feels like I didn't get everything I wanted to accomplish out there," Kazmir said. "I really wanted that, really bad. I'm just glad Maddon gave me the opportunity to finish it."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.