Tampa Bay Rays
Rays show hints of '08 magic, beat Yanks, 6-2
ST. PETERSBURG - Joe Maddon has expressed genuine disbelief the past few days that so much is being made of the current series with the Yankees. Of course he understands that beating New York head-to-head is the fastest way to close the gap to first place, and the inverse is also true. But the notion that Monday night's unsightly loss, standing on its own, was any sort of indicator of the Rays' playoff chances simply made no sense to him. "We're playing in a very difficult division against a team that is hot right now," Maddon said Tuesday afternoon. "So from my perspective - keep things in perspective." Lending credence to his argument were the events that unfolded at Tropicana Field hours later. As unrealistic as the Rays' October aspirations may have felt an evening earlier, the way they played in Tuesday's 6-2 victory had to swing the pendulum back to half-full mode.Set aside the win itself, a drop in the bucket over a six-month season, and ponder how the Rays' hopes for the next two months could be boosted if Scott Kazmir can find a way to harness whatever he had going Tuesday night. In completing seven innings for the first time since July 21, 2008, and allowing only one run in the process, the left-hander was everything he hasn't been this season. In what had to be considered a big game, Maddon's misgivings aside, Kazmir looked every bit the big-game pitcher. "It was a big game," Kazmir said. "Once you get down to this part of the season, where we're at in the standings, every game's huge - especially [against] the team that's on top of your division. We're going to have to treat every single game like this." His performance, an impressive showing by Tampa Bay's bats against CC Sabathia, and some nifty plays in the field prevented the Rays from falling farther out of first place than they've been in the past two seasons. Taking advantage of nearly every opening the starting pitcher would be a smart formula to follow. The Rays had what amounted to their best showing ever against Sabathia, as he turned in his shortest start (5 2/3 innings), allowed the most runs (six) and tied his highs for hits (nine) and earned runs (five) surrendered against Tampa Bay. The Rays just kept catching - and creating - breaks, particularly on the offensive side. From Carl Crawford's base-line baiting playing a part in Alex Rodriguez launching a throw down the right-field line for a run-scoring error to Ben Zobrist hustling on a ball Nick Swisher couldn't handle as he slid into foul territory down the same line and winding up at third with a triple. Moments like that haven't generally fallen in the Rays' favor this year, but for one night anyway a hint of that year-old magic crept back under the fiberglass roof. Or maybe it was older than a year, considering what got into - and came out of - Kazmir. "That was pretty nice to see, wasn't it?" Maddon said. "Reminiscent of maybe a couple years ago when he was on top of his form in regard to his mechanics, strike-throwing ability, length into the game. He looked really sharp."