Kazmir, Rays put clamps on Sox
Trot Nixon shows his frustration after striking out with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)
It was 2 and 2 to Mike Lowell with two outs in the sixth inning last night, Mark Loretta on second, Manny Ramírez on first, and the Sox behind, 2-1. Scott Kazmir -- undaunted by the Sox lineup, Curt Schilling's attempt at intimidation on WEEI, and his own lack of experience (he's just 22) -- had been toying with the Sox hitters, evidenced no better than in David Ortiz's first-inning at-bat (three pitches, three sliders, one strikeout).
Kazmir, however, stepped off the mound, shaking his throwing hand, a telltale sign of numbness.
''His thumb cramped," Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said. ''It must have been from too many video games growing up."
Maddon, who'd never seen such an ailment, refused to let his prodigal lefthander continue. In came reliever Travis Harper. As he warmed up, Lowell turned to plate umpire Terry Craft.
''I asked if I could get a new count," Lowell said. ''It's too much of a delay. It can't be 2 and 2. I asked if we could have a do-over."
The request was something the Sox would have liked by night's end, after Kazmir (5 2/3 IP, 4 hits, 7 Ks) bedazzled and two relievers -- Harper and Dan Miceli -- combined to pitch Tampa Bay to a 5-1 victory before 36,607 at Fenway to end the Sox' 10-game homestand. Kazmir improved to 3-1 with a 2.64 ERA in eight starts against the Sox and helped Tampa Bay to only its fourth win in its last 24 games at Fenway.
Trot Nixon struck out and Jason Varitek flied out in the ninth with the bases loaded, as the Sox went 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position, underscoring the fact they just haven't hit this season. They managed to go 6-4 on the homestand vs. Toronto, Seattle, and Tampa Bay despite batting .250 with 10 homers and only 41 RBIs. They won six of those 10 games because of a sterling staff ERA (3.70), with Tim Wakefield lending a significant hand in maintaining that svelte ERA.
For the second consecutive outing, he was all the Sox could have asked for. Against Seattle last Saturday, he worked a complete game, allowing three runs on nine hits, but lost. Last night, he lasted eight innings. Had he completed the game and lost, he'd have fallen to 1-4 in his last five complete games.
Wakefield set down the first 10Devil Rays he faced until walking Jorge Cantu with one out in the fourth inning on four pitches. Through six innings, Tampa Bay hit .053 (1 for 19) off the wily knuckleballer, who was not available in the postgame interview room, possibly because he was said to be feeling sick.
But the Cantu walk haunted him. Cantu was off and running on a 3-and-1 pitch to the next hitter, Travis Lee, and Lee rapped it into the corner in right, scoring Cantu. In fact, Lee nearly scored when the ball darted off the wall and nearly beat a sprawling Wily Mo Peña, who had to lunge to snare it with his barehand.
Lee manufactured the second run of the inning, stealing third and scoring an unearned run on a passed ball. The passed ball came on a called strike, to run the count to 0 and 2. As it sailed toward Josh Bard, he appeared to recoil, until the ball hit him in the mitt and skipped aside. Lee crossed the plate for a 2-1 lead.
The passed ball gave Bard six in four starts -- as many as Doug Mirabelli had all of last season -- and marked the 187th passed ball to occur with Wakefield on the mound, most among active pitchers. Wakefield gave up only one more run -- a titanic first-pitch blast to Jonny Gomes leading off the seventh, to fall behind 3-1.
Gomes would hit another, again leading off an inning, again on the first pitch, to greet Julian Tavarez in the ninth. Gomes, Tampa Bay's version of Gary Sheffield -- when he swings he does not get cheated -- clubbed those two homers a combined 849 feet (432 feet in the seventh, 417 feet in the ninth, according to home run tracking expert Greg Rybarczyk).
''They only have to go so far, but it's good to have that in your back pocket," Gomes said.
''Guy has great potential," Ortiz said. ''He's always ready to swing. And he's a big boy."
The Sox, for most of the evening, didn't look ready to swing. Kazmir was cutting through them. Youkilis doubled to lead off the first, advanced to third on Loretta's ground out, and was stuck there, when Ortiz fanned and Ramírez grounded out. Ortiz was 0 for 3 vs. Kazmir, Ramírez 0 for 2 with a walk. Career, Kazmir owns both of them. Ortiz is 3 for 17 (.176), Ramírez an even more unsightly 2 for 19 (.105). That's a combined 5 for 36 (.139).
The lefthander, who this year became the youngest Opening Day starter in the majors since Dwight Gooden in 1986, allowed his only run in the second, when he left a fastball over the plate to Dustan Mohr, who knows what to do with that kind of pitch. The searing shot came to a halt just over the last row of Monster seats in left-center, for his second homer of the homestand, and a brief 1-0 lead. That would be one of only six Red Sox hits on the night. The Sox have scored three runs or fewer six times this season but have managed to go 4-2 in those games.
''Sometimes you just have to be patient," manager Terry Francona said, in speaking about his lineup, ''because if you bail on the patience . . . you lose the good things that are about to happen. I know everyone wants us to score a bunch of runs, but I like the style of baseball we're playing.
''Even tonight when we got handcufffed offensively, we got the tying run to the plate. We're going to win more games than we lose if we play clean defense and get good pitching."