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Gutsy Rays earn highest praise

It is not often the Devil Rays are mistaken for the Yankees. But Zack Greinke had no trouble making the comparison.

In fact, the Royals pitcher said Tampa Bay, during its 7-4 victory over Kansas City Tuesday night at Tropicana Field, showed more than the Yankees in his start against them Sept. 14.

"They really impressed me," Greinke said. "These guys were making adjustments that I don't know if the Yankees were making the other day. I had to change my philosophy. Even though they weren't scoring runs, they were on pitches that I thought I set them up for."

Imagine if Greinke had been on the mound for Tampa Bay's five-run, six-hit eighth that erased a 4-2 deficit and snapped a three-game losing streak and a five-game skid at home.

The Rays moved two games ahead of the Blue Jays in the race to avoid last place in the East, and Tampa Bay's 64 victories are one more than last season and second in team history behind 69 in 1999 and 2000.

"A nice win for us," manager Lou Piniella said.

Second baseman Jorge Cantu got the winning hit, a two-run double that gave Tampa Bay a 5-4 lead. That came after Rocco Baldelli's home run made the score 4-3 and before two-out, run-scoring singles by Carl Crawford and Jose Cruz.

Tino Martinez's hustling double and B.J. Upton's hustling infield hit kept the momentum going after Baldelli's homer, his 15th.

"We played well," Royals manager Tony Pena said. "We had just one bad inning."

Greinke stifled the Rays for 6 innings and allowed two runs on eight hits with seven strikeouts. The wheels came off as Dennys Reyes, Shawn Camp and Jaime Cerda could not hold the Rays down in the eighth.

No one could hold down Cruz, who had four hits, including three singles, three RBIs and his 21st home run, a two-run blow that gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead in the third.

Martinez made diving stops of two ground balls to get outs. Starter Rob Bell and Mark Hendrickson, who got the win, pitched well. And Danys Baez got his 28th save and major league-best 17th straight.

MINOR LEAGUE AFFILIATE: The Rays apparently struck an affiliate deal with Class A Battle Creek of the Midwest League. The two-year deal likely will be announced today. Battle Creek replaces Charleston, now with the Yankees, as the Rays' low-A affiliate. Tampa Bay still is without a high-A affiliate since its deal with Bakersfield expired. It is believed Sarasota and Brevard of the Florida State League and Visalia, Modesto and Stockton of the California League are in the mix.

BULL MY FINGER: The calloused and sore middle finger of Scott Kazmir's pitching hand is not considered serious, and the left-hander is expected to start Friday against the Blue Jays.

The better story is how the finger was treated.

Rays trainer Ken Crenshaw said he applied an ointment used by bull riders to toughen their skin against abrasions. Crenshaw said he wanted to toughen Kazmir's callous to insure a blister did not develop. "We just filed it off a little bit to keep it smooth and keep the skin tough," he said.

Crenshaw said the ointment was developed by Dodgers trainer Stan Johnston, for nine years a professional bull rider. Johnston became an athletic trainer to treat his injuries. He has been a trainer since 1983 and with the Dodgers since 2000.

Will the ointment work with Kazmir?

"You never know till you get out there and start throwing," Crenshaw said.

TV SCHEDULE: Pax picked up Thursday's game against the Yankees and dropped the second game of the Sept. 30 doubleheader against the Tigers.

ODDS AND ENDS: Upton started for shortstop Julio Lugo, who has six errors in six games. Upton's throwing error in the seventh led to an unearned run. Both benches were warned by home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt after Greinke plunked Upton in the second and Bell threw inside twice to Abraham Nunez in the fifth.

_ DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times staff writer

TODAY: RAYS VS. ROYALS

PITCHERS: Royals _ LHP Darrell May (9-18, 5.48), Rays _ RHP Doug Waechter (4-7, 5.74).

NOTES: May has lost his past six starts and allowed 28 earned runs on 52 hits in 31 innings for an 8.13 ERA. He has gotten zero run support in his past three starts. He is 1-1 with a 4.38 ERA in five appearances, including four starts, against the Rays. Waechter makes his second career start against the Royals. He had a no-decision in his first. He is 1-4 with a 7.00 ERA this season in five starts at the Trop and has allowed 12 home runs in 27 innings.

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