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Rays' Kazmir bounces back strong from poor start

ST. PETERSBURG — Maybe it was the mechanical adjustments in his delivery. Maybe it was the new 'do, a Mohawk shaved hours before Saturday's start.

Either way, LHP Scott Kazmir was a completely different pitcher Saturday than the one who was shelled for nine runs Monday in the worst start of his career.

In his biggest start, Kazmir — who boldly said in spring training that the Rays could be playing in October — backed up his words with a stellar performance in the playoff-clinching game, pitching six scoreless innings and giving up five hits.

Kazmir said he just tried to slow things down and "stay poised" — until the celebration. But his teammates remained inspired by his performance.

"That shows, from his last outing to this outing, the definition of our team," LHP J.P. Howell said. "Get knocked down, you get back up and keep going, and it was a great example of that."

PEREZ PUMPED: In an improbable season filled with unlikely heroes, it was fitting that rookie OF Fernando Perez became a surprise star in the most significant win in franchise history.

The speedy switch-hitter, making his 10th start for injured B.J. Upton, made two key defensive plays, including starting a crucial 8-3-6 double play with the bases loaded in the fourth. As a bonus, he hit a solo homer in the sixth, his third this month (in 45 at-bats) after hitting five in 511 at-bats with Triple-A Durham.

UPTON BACK: Upton, who missed 10 games with a strained left quadriceps, entered in the fifth as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded and one out. Upton hit into an inning-ending double play to end the threat but stayed in the game and played center, moving Perez to leftfield.

Manager Joe Maddon said Upton would likely return to the starting lineup today in the series finale against the Twins.

BARTLETT MVP: The Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America announced its annual awards, with SS Jason Bartlett getting named the Rays' most valuable player, 3B Evan Longoria the outstanding rookie and DH Cliff Floyd the recipient of the Paul C. Smith Champion Award for "exemplifying the spirit of true professionalism on and off the field."

"To get that award today, it gave me chills," Bartlett said. "I never expected it. To go out here and play against my old buddies, it's an unbelievable feeling."

PERCY OKAY: Closer Troy Percival, who has recently battled lower back issues, said he felt "okay" during the dramatic ninth. "I got a ground ball to short, and a broken bat, and I walked a guy I shouldn't walk," he said. But Percival said he was fine with LHP Trever Miller replacing him with one out, saying, "The guys have carried me the whole second half anyway, so let them come in and finish it off."

When Miller got the final out — and was mobbed by a sea of teammates — he had a flashback.

"I thought I was a sophomore in high school playing scout team quarterback and saw the entire defensive line coming at me," Miller said. "There's some big boys; I'm like, 'Oh Lord, just stay on your feet, stay on your feet.' And I was able to do that."

MISCELLANY: Maddon said he still hasn't decided who will start the second game of Tuesday' doubleheader in Baltimore, with RHP Mitch Talbot and LHP David Price the top candidates. … The Rays are 21-1 at home in front of 30,000 or more. … Rocco Baldelli's bases-loaded walk in the fifth was the Rays' 20th of the season. … Sellouts Saturday and today mark the second time the Rays have had consecutive sellouts; they also did it in July 2007. They will be the seventh and eight sellouts of this season.

Rays' Kazmir bounces back strong from poor start 09/20/08 [Last modified: Sunday, September 21, 2008 12:12am]
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