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Oakland fielding blunder allows Rays to rally

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Rays have earned most of their 27 victories the old-fashioned way, with hard work, strong pitching and good defense.

But a little bit of luck never hurt either.

Trailing 1-0 in the eighth and one strike away from wasting a bases-loaded opportunity, as well as another strong start from Scott Kazmir, they got a huge break, and thus a big 3-2 win over the A's.

Oakland leftfielder Emil Brown lost Dioner Navarro's slicing line drive in the lights, allowing three runs to score.

"We did have some nice fortune," manager Joe Maddon said. "It happens. A ball lost in the lights. We got lucky with that."

Said Navarro: "I guess what goes around comes around."

The Rays improved to 27-19, the fourth-best record in the majors and worthy of a cover story in the next Sports Illustrated, and stayed one game behind the Red Sox.

Kazmir, making his fourth start since coming off the disabled list, had a good night, striking out eight while allowing one run on four hits to improve to 3-1 and lower his ERA to 1.57.

Maddon said Kazmir was as sharp as at any point during his impressive second half of last season. "Kaz pitched great," Maddon said. "Great command, great stuff. He was just really good."

Navarro also raved. "He was phenomenal," he said. "I think he's there now and hopefully he stays like that through the whole season."

But Kazmir said he can be even better. "It still feels like there's another step to take," he said.

After Dan Wheeler worked the eighth, Troy Percival again made it interesting, allowing a leadoff homer to Frank Thomas in the ninth then a one-out walk to Ryan Sweeney. After a brief visit to the mound by assistant trainer Paul Harker when he felt something in his left leg, he finished for his 13th save.

Kazmir walked only one, and it looked as if it would be a costly mistake. He put Jack Cust on with one out in the fifth, then after a flyout allowed two soft singles to the bottom of the order. Gregorio Petit blooped one to shallow right, sending Cust to third, and No. 9 hitter Rajai Davis scored him by dropping a line drive in front of rightfielder Eric Hinske, ending Kazmir's scoreless streak at 16 innings.

The Rays had plenty of chances early against rookie starter Greg Smith, with baserunners in each of the first six innings, but weren't able to convert.

The eighth-inning rally started when Jason Bartlett, subbing in the leadoff role for Akinori Iwamura, drew a walk and Carl Crawford singled, ending Smith's night.

With B.J. Upton facing Joey Devine, Bartlett got a good jump and broke for third, clearly ahead of Kurt Suzuki's throw, which bounced away, allowing Crawford to move up to second.

But Upton struck out and, after the A's intentionally walked Carlos Pena to load the bases, Evan Longoria, who hit the winning homer Monday, struck out. Navarro whacked a 2-and-2 pitch to left and Brown did the rest. The ball was initially scored an error, then changed to a double with three RBIs.

"It was a great win," Kazmir said. "It was about time for luck to change."

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

Rays 3

A's 2

Oakland fielding blunder allows Rays to rally 05/20/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 21, 2008 12:58pm]

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