ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Rays sure were glad to see Scott Kazmir on the mound.
The Rays knocked their former ace out after five innings in their first reunion and piled on from there, snapping a season-high three- game losing streak with a 7-2 victory over the Angels on Tuesday.
"You know both sides are going to be pumped up for it,'' Carl Crawford said. "And I'm glad we were the ones who came out on top.''
Said Kazmir: "It's very disappointing."
Crawford, the Ray who goes back the longest with Kazmir, led the welcoming committee with a single to score the first of their three runs off him.
It also was a happy homecoming for Evan Longoria. The product of nearby Downey, Calif., with dozens of friends and relatives in the stands, had an RBI single and a three-run homer.
And a pretty good affirmation of the decision to trade Kazmir, as Jeff Niemann delivered the latest in a string of impressive performances by their young starters, allowing only six hits while taking a shutout into the eighth.
Relievers Lance Cormier and Randy Choate made it a little too interesting, but Grant Balfour, Monday's loser, got the two biggest outs, with the bases loaded in the eighth.
The Rays improved their major-league-best record to 23-10 and guaranteed a second winning road trip heading into today's finale with what was a rare achievement: just their second win in 16 games in Anaheim under Maddon.
"It was fun, a good one to get out there and get a win,'' Niemann said. "We were all pretty amped up to face Kaz, to see a guy we all know well.''
They looked like it, taking a patient approach against Kazmir — as they saw so many other teams do over the years — and letting him get himself in trouble.
Kazmir, traded last August in a deal that saved the Rays more than $24 million, looked sharp at times, but pitched himself out of the game after just five innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and three walks and throwing 108 pitches.
"I thought our approach was really good today,'' manager Joe Maddon said. "Kaz, he's still got that really good late life on his fastball, that good carry that gave us a hard time, and some really good changeups,. But we were able to get him out of there after five, which was kinda nice.''
Said Kazmir: "I try to go out there and attack the hitters. But the book on me is obviously, 'Wait him out.' That's obvious to see. You don't see guys chasing because they don't expect me to be in the strike zone."
This was a little familiar, too: Kazmir's manager frustrated by his performance.
"We're still trying to unlock Kaz and get him to where he can be,'' Mike Scioscia said. "It's very frustrating. … Far too many pitches for five innings. We'll keep working with him. He's taken some steps forward but tonight wasn't what we need from him."
Much of the buildup focused on the awkwardness of the meeting and whatnot, but for the most part all parties played it straight.
Well, except the first time B.J. Upton, Kazmir's closest friend among the Rays strolled to the plate.
"It was just a little weird,'' Upton said. "I saw him hold his smile a little bit. I looked at him and I could tell he wanted to give me a little something back, but it's all good.''
Said Kazmir: "It was a little strange but once the game started I felt I did a good job (of focusing). There was one time — the first time B.J. came up — he was kind of smiling. I was trying to look the other way, look up in the stands and focus on something else."
The Rays grabbed a 2-0 lead in the third. Sean Rodriguez — the prime return thus far in the Kazmir trade (there are two prospects, pitcher Alex Torres and infielder Matt Sweeney, in the minors) — got them started with a one-out single, Jason Bartlett walked and Crawford laced an RBI single to center. The Rays quickly made it 2-0 on Maddon's increasingly favorite play, a safety squeeze by Ben Zobrist.
The Rays made it 3-0 in the fifth when Bartlett reached on an infield single and came around to score on Longoria's RBI single. And they doubled the margin in the seventh — well after Kazmir was gone — when Crawford singled, Zobrist walked and Longoria hit a three-run homer. In eight games at Angel Stadium, Longoria is hitting .452, 14-for-31 with seven doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs.
"It's fun,'' Longoria said. "I enjoy coming here.''
After the Rays took the 6-0 lead, when Niemann left in the eighth, Cormier allowed hits to the two batters he faced and Choate walked his one batter, Hideki Matsui on four pitches, to force in a run. But Balfour redeemed himself by getting out of the bases-loaded jam, striking out Howie Kendrick and getting Michael Ryan on a fielder's choice grounder.
"Night in, night out they're going to need you so you've got to go out there in the right frame of mind,'' Balfour said. "It was nice to come through there and get a couple of big outs, definitely.''
For the Rays, it turned out to be a good night, to beat Kazmir, to halt their streak, to win in Anaheim.
"The resiliency of the ballclub," Longoria said, "is really incredible.''
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.