Bullpen shines in Rays' victory
ST. PETERSBURG - Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria hit solo homers and Tampa Bay's bullpen limited Detroit to one hit over the last 4 1/3 innings, helping the AL East-leading Rays beat the Tigers 5-2 on Friday night.
Grant Balfour (3-1) struck out three of the four batters he faced in relief of All-Star Scott Kazmir to get the victory. The right-hander, who began the season in the minors, lowered his ERA to 1.20 with just four runs allowed and 45 strikeouts in 30 innings.
Pena is one of the players the Rays are counting on to step up offensively after failing to add another bat to the lineup before Thursday's non-waiver trade deadline. He was last year's AL Comeback Player of the Year when he hit .282 with 46 homers and 121 RBIs, but has struggled much of this season.
His homer off Zach Miner (5-4), snapping a 2-2 tie in the sixth, was his fourth in eight games and briefly lifted him into a tie with Longoria for the team lead with 19.
Longoria, leading all major league rookies in home runs, hit No. 20 off Joel Zumaya to make it 5-2 in the seventh.
Dan Wheeler escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh after J.P Howell gave up a double to Curtis Granderson, hit Magglio Ordonez with a pitch and walked Miguel Cabrera, bringing Gary Sheffield to the plate.
Sheffield, who drew a bases-loaded walk from Kazmir in the first, grounded to shortstop to end the threat.
Troy Percival worked the ninth to finish the four-hitter, moving ahead of Randy Myers for sole possession of eighth place on the career saves list with 348. The 40-year-old closer has converted 24 of 26 opportunities this season.
The strong performance by the bullpen made up for a subpar performance by Kazmir, who fell behind 2-0 when he walked four of the first six batters of the game and then gave up a RBI triple to Cabrera in the third.
Although the left-hander only allowed two runs and three hits, he tied a career high with six walks in 4 2-3 innings.
Since winning a club-record six straight decisions from May 10 to June 6, Kazmir has only won twice in 10 starts. He's lasted fewer than six innings in seven of those starts, exiting early more often than not because of high pitch counts.
He threw 110 pitches Friday night, departing after giving up a two-out single to Ordonez and issuing a walk to Cabrera. Balfour replaced him and struck out Sheffield to end the inning.
Miner, making his fourth start of the season after 32 appearances out of the bullpen, allowed four runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings.
Tampa Bay tied it with two runs in the third. Akinori Iwamura hit an RBI double and eventually came around to score when Brandon Inge, who became Detroit's regular catcher when Ivan Rodriguez was traded to the New York Yankees, failed to handle a low pitch and was charged with a passed ball.