Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ode to Kaz

You can argue that Scott Kazmir never lived up to his potential in Tampa Bay.

At one point, Kazmir was among the top young pitchers in baseball. He left the Rays Friday in the trade with the Angels as the third- or fourth-best pitcher in the rotation.

At one point, the Rays didn't have a chance unless Kazmir was on the mound. His recent stretch of good starts notwithstanding, you couldn't think that this season. Or last.

But this is what Kaz brought to the Rays in his nearly six seasons at the Trop: credibility.

Especially during the first few years of his career. As long as they had Kaz throwing every fifth day, the Rays had a chance to win at least once a week, and during those days, that was actually acceptable.

Injuries slowed his development. Some within the organization question his work ethic and desire, especially after he signed his big contract early in 2008.

But what I will remember most about Kazmir, besides the fact he never ducked the media no matter how poorly he pitched, was Game 5 at Boston during last year's ALCS.

Rays manager Joe Maddon switched his rotation to have Kazmir pitch at Fenway Park instead of James Shields, who is no "Big Game James" on the road.

It seemed like a dumb move. Maddon was ripped in the Boston media.

Kaz allowed two hits and struck out seven in six innings, turning a 7-0 lead over to the bullpen.

Kazmir had pitched the Rays to within nine outs of the World Series. He bowed up and found a bit of the old Kaz. He was the ace everyone believed he would be.

When you consider the lousy teams he pitch on when he first came to Tampa Bay, Kazmir deserved the chance to be the winning pitcher in the game that clinched the American League pennant and sent them to the World Series.

Alas, the Rays bullpen wasn't up to the task, and the Rays would need a full seven games to win the pennant.

Of course, that made Kaz the Game 1 starter in the World Series, another fitting honor for the two-time All-Star.

But I will always remember that October night in Boston, when, for six innings Kaz silenced a nation.

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