Tampa Bay Rays
Rays Beat The Orioles In Grand Fashion
ST. PETERSBURG - Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. An emphatic winner. The Rays clinched their first plus-.500 record in their 11-year history Friday night with an exclamation mark, showing off pitching and hitting in lambasting the Baltimore Orioles 14-3 at Tropicana Field. Scott Kazmir (10-6) became the fifth Rays starter to reach double-digit wins by holding the Orioles to three hits in 51/3 innings, Ben Zobrist jacked his first career grand slam, and Gabe Gross and Shawn Riggans also homered as Tampa Bay got its highest run output at home since Sept. 5, 2007."We wouldn't have been thinking about a winning season last year or the year before," said Kazmir, who took the mound for the fifth inning with a 10-0 lead. "What a season." While a winning mark has been a foregone conclusion for weeks, if not months, and the Rays long ago set their sights on a bigger prize, getting victory No. 82 was still an historic achievement. A team that has never finished better than 23 games under .500 is a club-record 31 games above even. "We've been trying to break through a lot of barriers this year, and I think we have," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Our eyes have been on the playoffs all the time - these are just moments that you have to go through - and hopefully ... the expectation is raised to a playoff situation on an annual basis." All that was missing was a full house to mark the occasion. The series opener against the last-place Orioles drew a so-so crowd of 21,439, certainly better than the average attendance of 13,398 for the Toronto series Tuesday through Thursday, but far less than a last-to-first contender might draw in this market if there were a pulling guard involved. After scoring only six runs while winning two of three against Toronto, the Rays exploded with 15 hits against Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie (10-11) and three relievers. Cliff Floyd went 3-for-4 with two doubles and five RBIs. B.J. Upton had a three-hit night. Akinori Iwamura had two hits, including a triple, and scored three runs. Gross went 3-for-4, and Carlos Pena had two RBIs. Significant damage came from the bottom of the order with Zobrist, Gross and Riggans. Zobrist, the all-everything injury fill-in, got a curtain call after his grand slam. "I don't think I've ever done that in college ball, minor leagues or anything that I remember," he said. "Offensively, we just kind of came out of our shell." The Rays caught Guthrie on a night when his control didn't make the flight to Tampa, and they treated him to the shortest outing of his major-league career - three innings. Guthrie, who was 1-1 with a 2.95 ERA in four previous games for Baltimore at Tropicana Field, gave up seven runs and walked six in his quick evening. Four of his walks came in the second, the last two with the bases loaded, as the Rays took a 3-0 lead. Tampa Bay's bats did the rest of the damage, chasing the right-hander in the fourth with singles by Iwamura and Upton, a walk to Pena and a two-run double by Floyd. Fernando Cabrera came on with runners at second and third and no outs. After an intentional walk to Eric Hinske, Zobrist sent a 376-foot shot over the right-field wall. Gross followed with his 11th home run, a 414-foot shot, and the Rays led 10-0. Iwamura tripled in Tampa Bay's first at-bat, and it was a sign of things to come. Although Iwamura was thrown out trying to come home on an Upton grounder to short, Pena coaxed a walk and Floyd followed with the first of his RBI doubles.
Tony Fabrizio can be reached at (813) 259-7994 or firstname.lastname@example.org.