ST. PETERSBURG — In 36 games with the Rays, DH/1B Dan Johnson has etched his name in club lore with huge home runs against the Red Sox and Yankees.
Friday, Johnson homered for his third consecutive at-bat, a solo shot in the second inning against the Angels.
Johnson, 31, acknowledged he might not have had the memorable moments had he not made such a great impression with Triple-A Durham (30 homers, 95 RBIs), which earned him a spot in the big leagues for the first time in two years. That's what made Friday's announcement that he won the Rays' minor-league player of the year award so meaningful.
RHP Jeremy Hellickson was named pitcher of the year. All the winners were honored before Friday's game.
"I think that shows that the work paid off," Johnson said of going to Triple A. "I didn't go and hang my head. I feel like it was kind of a turning point for me. I could have easily folded up and packed it in. But I'm just proud of the fact I went down there, worked hard and put up the numbers. And I'm now rewarded for it.
"It got me here."
Hellickson also won national minor-league player of the year awards from Baseball America and USA Today.
"You've got a lot of talent in this organization," he said. "And we've got a lot of guys with really good years. So (the Rays' award) definitely means a lot."
KAZ BACK: Angels LHP Scott Kazmir said it was "very weird" to return to Tropicana Field for the first time since getting traded Aug. 29, 2009.
Kazmir, who starts Sunday, stayed at his place in Tampa on Thursday night and got a ride to the stadium. But it all sunk in once he walked into the stadium.
"I was talking to the security guards by the home clubhouse, and I made a quick turn to the left and had to stop myself," Kazmir said. "Old habits, hard to break.
Kazmir said he chatted with the Rays but quipped, "I don't want to be too nice to all the guys since I still have to face them on Sunday.
"These guys coming to Anaheim, it really wasn't the same. Coming here, you kind of get the full effect now."
DIFFERENT VIEWS: Yankees GM Brian Cashman told New York's Newsday that the team will rest players and use its bullpen cautiously over the final 2½ weeks of the regular season, including next week's four-game series with the Rays, while emphasizing preparing for the playoffs over winning the American League East.
"Our focus is a World Series, not 10 years from now being known as division champions," Cashman said. "If you're not World Series champions, nothing else matters. Nobody really remembers."
The Rays, on the other hand, have made it clear their goal is winning the division. Manager Joe Maddon has said being able to hang up that banner is "the ultimate."
Maddon said he would "never denigrate anybody else's opinions." But the Rays will continue to play their typical game while resting people within their usual framework. Maddon pointed out how important it could be to hold off the Central-leading Twins for the league's best record and homefield advantage in the playoffs.
MINOR MATTERS: Columbus, the Indians' affiliate, beat Durham 13-2 in Game 4 to win the best-of-five Governor's Cup Championship 3-1. … The Rays and their short-season affiliate Hudson Valley have extended their player development contract through 2012.
COMMUNITY: The Rays' wives continue to host a school supplies drive today and Sunday to benefit the Orange Heart Foundation and PACE Center for Girls, collecting at Gates 1 and 5 through the second inning.
Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.