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Rays' Kazmir shows progress in ALCS Game 5

Scott Kazmir pitches during the first of his six scoreless innings in Game 5 on Thursday. Kazmir, who allowed five runs in Game 2, retired the final nine batters he faced.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Scott Kazmir pitches during the first of his six scoreless innings in Game 5 on Thursday. Kazmir, who allowed five runs in Game 2, retired the final nine batters he faced.

ST. PETERSBURG — Lost in Thursday's loss was the encouraging performance of LHP Scott Kazmir, which manager Joe Maddon said could be even more significant if the Rays have more games to play next week.

"He did his job superbly," Maddon said. "If we continue and move on to the next round, that game could really catapult him into the World Series and a great performance there."

Kazmir's biggest problem had been fastball command. But Maddon gave him some interesting advice, encouraging him to throw his slider and changeup more often, and all three pitches ended up being more effective as he allowed just two hits over six shutout innings.

"I could just see his body language. He was really starting to develop a little bit of a rhythm about what he was doing out there," Maddon said of Kazmir, who retired his final nine batters and threw 111 pitches. "That's what I saw as being different. His confidence began to build up as that game was in progress."

The Red Sox noticed the difference, too.

"Kazmir certainly turned it up a notch from when he pitched (in Game 2)," hitting coach and Tampa native Dave Magadan said. "He had a lot more life on his fastball. He was throwing harder. His slider had more break, had some depth on it. Just his stuff overall was a lot better."

SLIP-SLIDING AWAY: Gabe Gross, 0-for-9 in the ALCS and 1-for-15 in the postseason, has remained in the lineup and likely will be in rightfield again tonight (with a slight chance of Rocco Baldelli starting) because of his defense.

That made it even more surprising when he made a poor throw to the plate on Coco Crisp's tying single in the eighth and not much of a play on J.D. Drew's game-ending single.

On the Crisp single, Gross said his throw was off-line because his left foot slipped on the damp grass.

Said Sox manager Terry Francona: "I was glad to see that ball come in with not as much on it as it could."

Gross said he didn't get a good read on Drew's liner and didn't break back quickly enough as the ball sailed over his head.

maddon criticism: There was some considerable media criticism of the way Maddon handled the bullpen Thursday, including the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell writing that Maddon surpassed Boston skipper Grady Little "for the worst managing job" in ALCS history.

One point was because he left right-hander Grant Balfour in to face lefty David Ortiz, who hit a three-run homer. But Balfour had held lefties to a .120 average during the season and hadn't allowed a homer.

Another was he left Dan Wheeler in too long, but Maddon said he wanted to stay with the right-hander to turn around the Sox's switch-hitters.

HISTORY LESSONS: The seven-run deficit was the largest in any postseason game in which a team faced elimination. The mark had been five: the Mariners in Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS against the Yankees, and the Angels (with Maddon as their bench coach) in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series against the Giants. Overall, it was the second-largest comeback in any postseason game. The Philadelphia A's overcame an eight-run deficit against the Cubs in Game 4 of the 1929 World Series, scoring 10 in the seventh inning.

The good news? The plus side of not clinching Thursday is the chance to do so in front of the fans at soldout Tropicana Field.

"It would definitely be sweet," James Shields, tonight's starter, said. "The crowd has really shown up the last month and a half, two months of the season."

MISCELLANY: The Rays' 13 homers have set an ALCS record, and the 20 homers for the two teams tie the combined record set by the Sox and Yankees in 2003. … 3B Evan Longoria and 1B Carlos Pena are the first players to hit back-to-back homers twice in a single postseason. … Teen saxophonist B.K. Jackson will perform the national anthem tonight for the third time this postseason. … The Rays' plane landed about 5 a.m. Maddon said he went to bed at 7 and had to set his alarm to make his 3 p.m. media session.

Rays' Kazmir shows progress in ALCS Game 5 10/17/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 17, 2008 11:17pm]

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