Former Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir has a second chance at his career with his new minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians. Kazmir was once the Rays’ ace, but his performance declined significantly in 2008 due to elbow injuries. He was traded in August of 2009 to the Angels, who released Kazmir in 2011.
During Spring Training in 2008, Kazmir told reporters that the Rays would make a playoff appearance that season. His prediction was considered a joke by everyone, since the Rays’ previous ten seasons were all losing seasons. However, Kazmir proved to be right, as the Rays went to the 2008 World Series. Unfortunately, they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies. While Kazmir was still at his peak for the Devil Rays, he gave fans a sign of things to come in the 2008 season, as he struck out ten batters in the D-Rays 1-0 victory against the Boston Red Sox on September 10, 2007.
In the bottom of the first inning, Boston’s Julio Lugo hit a single to center field, but Kazmir struck out the following batter, Coco Crisp. However, a wild pitch to Mike Lowell, allowed Crisp to steal second base. Kazmir redeemed himself by striking out Lowell for the inning’s final out. Delmon Young hit a leadoff single to start off the D-Rays offensive action for the evening. Boston starting pitcher Curt Schilling walked Greg Norton but went on to strike out Dioner Navarro.
Kazmir dazzled in the bottom of the second inning, as he struck out Bobby Kielty, which was followed by Kevin Youkilis’ groundout to third base. Kazmir went on to strike out Jason Veritek. Schilling recorded two strikeouts in the top of the third and fourth innings, but Kazmir stole the show again in the bottom of the fourth inning as he struck out Kielty and Youkilis.
The D-Rays’ offense supported Kazmir’s efforts as Greg Norton began the top of the fifth inning with a double to left field. Norton went on to score off of Josh Wilson’s sacrifice fly. But the action continued as Akinori Iwamura and Carl Crawford both hit singles to center field. However, Schilling struck out Carlos Pena to end the D-Rays’ streak.
The sixth inning was another successful inning for Kazmir as he struck out Lugo and Lowell. Boston’s Kielty hit a leadoff single to left field in the following inning. But Kazmir struck out Youkilis, walked Veritek, and struck out Ellsbury for his tenth strike out of the night.
Reliever Javier Lopez kicked off the eighth inning for Boston by striking out Crawford and Pena. Mike Timlin relieved Lopez and struck out B.J. Upton for the inning’s third out. Dan Wheeler, the D-Rays’ reliever, began the bottom of the eighth inning by walking Crisp. Wheeler went on to strike out Dustin Pedroia and Lowell.
The D-Rays attempted to create more runs in the top of the ninth inning as Young hit a single to center field. However, Young would later be thrown out at first base, as a part of a double play off of a fly ball hit by Brendan Harris. In the bottom of the inning, though, reliever Alberto Reyes recorded the D-Rays pitching staff’s 13th strike out of the night as he struck out Boston’s final batter, Varitek and seal the D-Rays’ 1-0 win.
For a long time, the Rays were punching bags to the mighty Yankees and Red Sox. Scott Kazmir was the first player that begun to change that, delivering games like this one where he showed that the Rays really had the ability to hang with the heavyweights of the AL East and that a future where that happened on a more regular basis was not so far away. Rays fans will always remember Kazmir fondly for his central role in the team’s turnaround, and hope he can find success again as he returns to big league camp with the Indians.