Rays left-hander Scott Kazmir said before Monday's start that he relishes the "underdog" role, where it feels as though everyone's against you.
That was certainly the case in Game 5 of the World Series, as the All-Star pitcher carried the burden of the Rays being one game from elimination and playing on a chilly, rainy night in front of a raucous, towel-waving Citizens Bank Park crowd.
But Kazmir also pointed out the pressure of going up against ace Cole Hamels, who had dominated throughout his MVP-worthy postseason.
"It feels like every pitch you throw is going to be a crucial pitch - you feel like you want to throw up zeroes," Kazmir said. "And if you don't, it's going to be tough to get a win."
Kazmir did throw up a few zeroes, but gave up two early runs and struggled, at times, with his command. He walked six batters and was chased in the fifth inning after throwing 103 pitches. Though he wasn't at his best, Kazmir battled and, thanks to a clutch assist by reliever Grant Balfour in the fifth, kept the Rays in the game in his third straight postseason start.
Kazmir put himself in a tough spot from the get-go, walking two and hitting one batter in the first inning to load the bases. Shane Victorino made him pay with a two-run single to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead. In the previous at-bat, Kazmir appeared to just miss an inning-ending Strike 3 call on Pat Burrell, but umpire Jeff Kellogg wouldn't bite.
After that, Kazmir settled down, fitting into a postseason theme (entering Monday's start, Kazmir had a 13.50 ERA in the first inning, and 2.04 afterward). Kazmir gave up just a two-out single in the second and tossed a 1-2-3 third (with two strikeouts). He struck out slugger Ryan Howard twice.
Kazmir showed some grit in tough spots, best shown in getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth. With one on and two outs, Rollins worked a walk out of an eight-pitch at-bat. Then, Jayson Werth fouled off five pitches before getting a free pass.
But in one of the biggest at-bats of the game, Kazmir fell behind 3-and-1 to Chase Utley before getting him to ground out to second to thwart the threat and keep the Rays within one run.
The Rays wanted to stick with Kazmir, allowing him to bat his turn in the fifth. But when he walked the first two batters in the bottom half, manager Joe Maddon pulled him to see if reliever Grant Balfour could get them out of a two-on, no-out situation. Balfour did, getting three straight outs (two popouts and a flyout) and the Phillies' lead remained 2-1, which was key because the Rays tied it in the sixth before play was suspended.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.