Tampa Bay Rays
It all comes together at end for Rays
ST. PETERSBURG - Scott Kazmir, Carlos Pena, Willy Aybar, Jason Bartlett and a red-hot bullpen all had a hand in this one. Postgame act Pat Benatar, too. Kazmir made a successful return from the disabled list, and Aybar drove in Bartlett with a walk-off, pinch-hit sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth as the Rays beat the Marlins 3-2 on Saturday night in front of 35,790 at Tropicana Field. Never mind that they won their fourth in a row and climbed to a high-water mark of six games over .500 (41-35), the Rays also improved to 11-0 since the Summer Concert Series debuted last year."We're at the point now where we're expecting to win games late," said Manager Joe Maddon, whose team moved into a tie with Toronto for third in the American League East. "I thought in the beginning of the year we were almost hoping we would win close games late. Now we're expecting to." In the ninth, Bartlett reached on a one-out bloop single to right against reliever Burke Badenhop (5-3). Bartlett stole second, and with Aybar pinch-hitting for Michel Hernandez, went to third on a wild pitch. Aybar, now knowing he needed only a moderately deep fly ball to score Bartlett, hit one to center, and Bartlett scored without a play at home plate. That evacuated the Rays dugout and triggered a celebration near first base. "I just wanted to make contact and try to get the ball out of the infield," Aybar said through an interpreter. "I knew when I hit it the run would score." Kazmir spent more than a month on the disabled list working on his mechanics, and it appears the time was well spent. The lefthander had started the season well enough, winning three of his first four starts, but his control waned and his velocity dropped, and he went 1-3 with an 11.35 ERA in a stretch of five starts. The Rays placed him on the DL and prescribed a program of drills designed to shorten his stride so he wouldn't fall off toward third base in his delivery. In two minor-league rehab starts, Kazmir went 1-0 with an 0.84 ERA in 102/3 innings. Saturday, he looked at least as sharp as he did early in the season, allowing a good-hitting Marlins team two runs on four hits in five innings while striking out five and walking one. The first of those runs came in the opening inning, a frame in which Kazmir had pitched to a 12.00 ERA entering Saturday's start. Emilio Bonifacio walked (Kazmr's lone walk), stole second and third and scored on a groundout by Hanley Ramirez. Florida's other run came on a home run by Brett Carroll, who jacked a 90-mph two-seam fastball over the left-field wall. "I just left it out over the outer half of the plate," Kazmir said. Said Maddon: "I thought it was a very impressive first time back. I think from what I saw tonight, you're going to see him get deeper into games as we progress." Marlins 22-year-old righthander Chris Volstad, making his first start against the Rays, kept it scoreless until Pena cracked a two-out opposite-field home run to left in the fourth. That was Pena's 100th home run as a Ray, moving him past Fred McGriff for second on the franchise list. The Rays tied it in the fifth. Bartlett doubled and went to third on a single by Hernandez off a deflection. B.J. Upton bunted down the first-base line to squeeze him home, but Upton also reached safely when he eluded the tag. The win for the second consecutive night went to J.P. Howell (4-2), one of four relievers who combined to hold the Marlins scoreless for the final four innings. Since June 8, The Rays' bullpen has an ERA of 1.00 in 54 innings. "You go out there, you want to keep attacking," said Dan Wheeler, who contributed a scoreless inning. "Howell does it, I do it, Chad Bradford tonight, Grant Balfour - he's been doing great. We just need to keep it going."
Reporter Tony Fabrizio can be reached at (813) 259-7994.