A's can't figure out Kazmir, fall to Rays
Club strikes out 13 times against ace lefty as pitchers struggle
ST. PETERSBURG -- For the second night in a row, the A's met up against some surprisingly dominant Devil Rays pitching. And unfortunately, for the second night in a row, Oakland couldn't crack Tampa Bay's starter.
So exactly how good was Rays lefty Scott Kazmir?
"He's obviously a good pitcher, and then he had a great night, too," A's manager Bob Geren said. "The ball just seemed to be jumping at the hitters. His fast ball was very live. He seemed like he got the ball by a few of us and he had pretty good control of it."
The 14-3 final score -- and Kazmir's superb eight-plus inning performance -- should say enough. The 23-year-old southpaw had all that and then some. He fanned a career-high 13, which broke the former club record of 12 set by current teammates James Shields (April 22, against Cleveland) and Dan Wheeler (1999, vs. Oakland).
"I felt like I had everything going," Kazmir said. "Felt good, felt great. It felt like I could throw [my fast ball] where I wanted it."
Even though Kazmir was dominant, Mark Ellis still managed to pick up a double in his first at-bat to extend his career-high hitting streak to 10 games. It came at a point when the game was still scoreless and very much in reach for the A's. Maybe Kazmir was upset over having his potential no-hitter ruined so early on. Whatever the cause, he turned up the gas and didn't allow another hit until Mike Piazza clubbed a leadoff double in the eighth.
"He's got a great arm, and he came out throwing strikes," said Piazza. "Ninety-five and up in the zone [is] a little bit tough to catch up to."
J.J. Furmaniak connected for an RBI double one out later and Kurt Suzuki followed that up with a sacrifice fly but by that time, it was too far out of hand to get back under control. Jack Hannahan homered to right-center in the ninth for one final push, his third of the season.
When it rains, it pours, and Oakland was living proof on Saturday night.
Jonny Gomes' sixth-inning blast to left caromed off of the 'B' ring, the second from the roof. Instead of going to left field, where it was headed, the ball changed courses and fell between a befuddled Nick Swisher and Ellis, in mid-center field. Tropicana Field rules state that when a ball hits the 'B' ring, it's in fair play. In this case, Gomes stretched it into a triple. The curious play came after Geren queried reporters earlier in the day as to whether anybody had "ever hit any of the catwalks?"
"That's tough to see," Geren said, of the view from the dugout. "I was looking in a different direction, and the ball came out of nowhere. That's the first time I've ever witnessed it. Until you see it happen once, it's kind of an odd experience."
Try as they may, the A's just couldn't get a break. Two Rays were on base when Hannahan, the third baseman, dove to backhand a screaming Brendan Harris grounder that skipped around the base just fair, and past Hannahan into the outfield, allowing both runners to score and the debt to increase.
"They looked locked in," starter Joe Blanton said. "They've got confidence right now and you know they're running with it."
It was the second time in as many nights the A's had faced a pitcher on the top of his game. One game prior, Shields held Oakland to two runs over 8 1/3 innings during a 12-2 victory for Tampa Bay.
Geren said he felt confident his team will have rebounded by the time Sunday's game rolls around.
"They're good pitchers, but they had very good games, too," said Geren, of Kazmir and Shields.
Meanwhile, Blanton was putting in a lot of work. Tampa Bay scored thrice on him early by way of a two-run homer from Gomes in the second inning and an RBI double in the third. The right-hander ran his pitch count up into the mid-50s after just three innings, and it was clear Oakland would be in for a long night.
Blanton's home run pitch to Gomes was just the fifth long ball he's allowed over his last 17 starts.
The right-hander had another run charged to him in the fifth, this time on a none-out triple/sac fly combo, and hit the showers after finishing the frame, having tossed 102 pitches.
"In my five innings, a couple of long at-bats cost me some pitches," Blanton said. "And one mistake, basically [to Gomes]... that's basically the whole night right there, and the way Kazmir was throwing on top of it, there's not much you can do about it."
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.