Kazmir climbs, finale sinks

Pitcher nearly assured of the majors' strikeout crown, but Rays offense fails him in season's last home game.

By DAVE SCHEIBER, Times Staff Writer
Published September 28, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - In the final Tampa Bay home game of 2007, Scott Kazmir gave Rays fans something to talk about Thursday - even if his team went out with a whisper in a 3-1 loss to the New York Yankees before a crowd of 28,962 at Tropicana Field.

The 23-year-old lefty vaulted into the major-league strikeout lead by fanning 10 to raise his total to 239, passing both San Diego's Jake Peavy (234) and Minnesota's Johan Santana (235).

Santana and Peavy are not expected to pitch again in the regular season, meaning Kazmir is in excellent position to become the youngest pitcher to lead the majors in strikeouts since Tampa's Dwight Gooden did it with the Mets in 1984 at age 19. Kazmir would also become the 10th-youngest all time.

The fourth-year Ray was in stellar form, pitching six innings, yielding only three hits and allowing no walks. It marked the sixth time this season that Kazmir struck out 10 or more in a game - and 14th time in his career. How big was taking over the strikeout lead?

"It was huge," he said. "I tried to get the strikeouts out of my head. I just wanted to go out there and attack the strike zone and get as deep as I could into the ball game. And with the fans behind you like that, it really make things that much more special."

Carlos Pena drilled a leadoff shot in the fourth to rightfield for his 44th home run - tying Jonny Gomes' team record of 11 homers in a month. That put the Rays ahead 1-0.

In the top of the fifth, the home crowd roared its approval as Kazmir struck out Robinson Cano to pass Santana, then mowed down Jose Molina to strike out the side. But the Yankees tied the score in the sixth on a Johnny Damon RBI double, and New York took the lead in the seventh - rocking reliever Jon Switzer with a single and double before Gary Glover yielded a two-run single to Molina.

Rays manager Joe Maddon, though disappointed at finishing the season series with the Yankees at 9-11, was delighted with Kazmir. "He's been doing that for the last month ... throwing with that kind of velocity and location," Maddon said. "And he was very good. ... But I just like the body of work over the last month."

As for the milestone?

"It just indicates all the good young players that we have and what we're capable of doing in the future," he said. "That's a wonderful achievement on his part. ... If he's able to maintain that lead, it's quite an achievement for him and us."

There were some other bright spots for the Rays. Rightfielder Delmon Young's fourth-inning single gave him 185 hits, breaking Rocco Baldelli's club rookie record in 2003. Shortstop Josh Wilson singled in the fifth, snapping an 0-for-35 streak. The club-record futility streak is 0-for-37 by Jose Cruz in 2004.

"You look at the year Carlos, B.J. (Upton) and a possible rookie of the year (Young)," Maddon added. "So there's a lot of good stuff going on out here. The record (65-94) you'd like to be better, absolutely. ... But there's been a lot of really good personal achievement this year. We want to make that into a team achievement next year."