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Crawford leads Rays past Royals 5-3

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Carl Crawford's first triple Saturday night had historical significance, making him the first player in more than 70 years to have 80 three-base hits before turning 27.

The second was much more important.

The star leftfielder, immersed in the worst slump of his career, delivered his biggest hit in weeks, knocking in two runs with a two-out triple in the eighth inning as the Rays rallied to a rain-delayed 5-3 win over the Royals.

"We really needed it," Crawford said. "It was a good feeling to contribute."

With the victory, the Rays (61-42) widened their American League East lead to two games over Boston and remained three ahead of the hard-charging Yankees, who won their eighth straight by beating the Red Sox again.

The Rays led 2-1 when the game was interrupted for 73 minutes in the middle of the fifth inning as a fierce storm moved in quickly. The Royals quickly tied the score when play resumed, foiling the efforts of starter Scott Kazmir, who threw 69 pitches before the delay, stayed loosed by throwing in the batting cage, then came back out for the fifth.

It remained tied until the eighth, though it shouldn't necessarily have come down to Crawford. Akinori Iwamura singled with two outs, and the Rays got a huge break when B.J. Upton blooped a ball to short right that somehow dropped between second baseman Mark Grudzielanek and rightfielder Jose Guillen, who was so far out of position it was as if the ball struck a catwalk at the Trop.

"I thought it was a routine out," Upton said. "That was definitely a big break right there."

Iwamura should have scored, but he wasn't running hard enough, which manager Joe Maddon made clear was unacceptable. "That wasn't good," Maddon said. "If we're going to win this thing, we can't make plays like that. We have to beat everybody to the punch. We just got lucky tonight."

Iwamura declined comment.

Especially with as many chances as they have been wasting. They actually got another break when leftfielder Esteban German didn't catch Crawford's foul ball against the side wall. But Crawford, who came into the game hitting .127 over his previous 13 with one extra-base hit and one RBI, delivered on the next pitch.

"We just capitalized on it," Upton said. "That's been us all season — give us a second chance, and we normally take advantage."

Kazmir was relatively sharp, though he gave up a run in the fourth. The Rays used a string of four relievers after Kazmir, with Al Reyes getting the win (his first since April 11), Dan Wheeler working a quick eighth and, after Carlos Pena delivered an insurance homer for the second straight night, Troy Percival finishing for his 346th career save, one behind Randy Myers for eighth place on the all-time list.

It, as usual, wasn't easy, as Ross Gload led off with a triple on a fly ball that rightfielder Gabe Gross misplayed at the wall, and German singled him in.

But Percival recovered to get a fielder's choice grounder, a fly to center and a foul out to end it.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Rays 5

Royals 3

Crawford leads Rays past Royals 5-3 07/26/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 10:40pm]
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