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Maddon gives acea chance to step up
Scott Kazmir rewards the confidence with a stellar performance.
By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published September 11, 2007
Scott Kazmir, who has saved his best for Boston in his career, struck out 10 Red Sox batters in seven shutout innings, setting the stage for a 1-0 Rays win.
BOSTON - For all that has been made of Scott Kazmir's pitch count - about how limiting the 23-year-old lefty's pitches is based on preserving his arm to one day pitch in October - Rays manager Joe Maddon let his young ace loose Monday night as if it were the playoffs.
Kazmir, who has saved his best for Boston in his career, struck out 10 Red Sox batters in seven shutout innings, setting the stage for a 1-0 Rays win.
Not only did Kazmir's effort give the Rays (61-83) their 13th win in 17 games, it marked the first time they've won back-to-back games at Fenway Park (they won the finale of a three-game series Aug.22) since July 23-24, 2002. And it was the first time the Red Sox have lost a 1-0 game at home since Sept.2, 2001, when Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina was one out from a perfect game.
But it was the words Maddon gave Kazmir during a seventh-inning mound visit that showed just how confident the Rays are these days. Although 25 games separate the teams in the AL East, Maddon walked to the mound with two on and one out and yelled something few Rays managers have into his pitcher's ear over a raucous sellout crowd of 36,907.
"Based on the whole vibe of the night, I wanted him to get used to pitching in these situations," Maddon said. "When I went out to the mound, I said, 'This is not a normal game. This is a playoff game.'"
Most of the times Maddon has come to the mound late in the game, it has been to take Kazmir out. He hasn't thrown more than 110 pitches in any of his past nine starts. So Maddon's challenging words were a welcome change.
"It jacked me up," Kazmir said. "It really did. I was going on adrenaline to begin with. That gave me a little bit extra."
Kazmir went on to strike out Jacoby Ellsbury, making the rookie look foolish on a slider, then induced Joey Cora into a forceout at third to end the inning and his outing. Kazmir threw a season-high 118 pitches, his most since he threw 120 in a 3-0 shutout win over the Red Sox at Tropicana Field on July 3, 2006.
"Kaz likes the big moment," Maddon said. "You come to Fenway and you're playing against the Red Sox, that brings out the best in Kaz. Always."
After Dan Wheeler struck out Dustin Pedroia and Mike Lowell in the eighth, closer Al Reyes pitched a perfect ninth. And suddenly this wasn't the same Rays team that entered having lost 36 of 44 at Fenway dating to 2003.
"I think we've always had the confidence," Kazmir said. "Now we're kind of developed a little bit more. We're young guys, and we're going to get better as time goes on, and we're showing it now. It just shows that we're taking that step to being a winning ballclub."
Kazmir held the Red Sox - playing without ailing slugger Manny Ramirez and with David Ortiz limited to a pinch-hitting role - to five hits, and only twice did a baserunner reach second against him. Kazmir (12-8), now with 209 strikeouts, is 6-4 with a 2.62 ERA for his career against Boston. He had his fourth 10-strikeout game of the season. And of the 25 times a Rays pitcher has thrown double-digits strikeouts, Kazmir has 12.
"It was a lot of fun watching our pitchers shut them down and winning a close ballgame," said Greg Norton, who scored in the fifth.