10/23/08 2:30 AM EST
One pitch all the difference for Kazmir
Rays' ace puts Game 1 loss to Phillies on his shoulders
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
Unfortunately for Kazmir and the Rays, that comfort level didn't seep in until after the Phillies touched Kazmir for a key two-run homer. Chase Utley's first-inning blast was the difference-maker in the Phillies' 3-2 victory, handing Kazmir the loss despite an admirable six-inning stint.
"It's weird," Kazmir said. "[In the] third and fourth innings, everything just kind of starts to come together. Everything feels good, my release point is there. As the game goes on, it feels like I got more and more comfortable."
Once Kazmir settled down, the Phillies' bats went limp in several key moments. Philadelphia stranded 11 baserunners, four of which were left in scoring position with two outs.
"I really thought Kaz pitched great," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I was pleased. I thought he had probably the best slider he's had for a couple of months. [His] velocity, maybe not throwing mid-90s, but much better command of low-90s, which I would prefer anyhow."
Kazmir, who missed the first month of the season with a left elbow strain, has struggled with delivery problems all year, but he didn't feel his mechanics were that far off on Wednesday night.
In fact, Kazmir wanted just one do-over in his 110-pitch performance.
"Just that one pitch," Kazmir said of the low-and-inside fastball that Utley sent over the fence. "Everything else I'll take. I was kind of going over and over [scouting reports] to attack them and attack the outside corner, and I just couldn't get it there."
At the time, Kazmir -- although upset at the missed location -- simply shook off the early deficit. And although Utley's homer proved to be critical, no one inside the Rays' clubhouse was placing the blame on their starter.
"He got a bloop single here and a bloop single there, and he came back and got out of those jams pretty good," catcher Dioner Navarro said. "So I think we are really pleased with the job that he did."
Kazmir erased leadoff singles in the third and sixth innings and exited after allowing three runs on six hits with four strikeouts. His four walks didn't help -- as Jayson Werth ended up scoring thanks to his first-inning free pass -- but in the end, it was Phillies starter Cole Hamels who proved to be the Rays' true nemesis. Hamels went seven strong frames and allowed Tampa Bay a pair of runs, helping give Philadelphia a 1-0 series lead.
"It's one of those things where it's similar to Boston," reliever J.P. Howell said of the Rays' American League Championship Series opponent. "It's going to be long, it's going to be tight and it's going to one-run ballgames."
Kazmir was slightly more critical of his performance. The lefty blamed the Phillies' early hits on his lack of execution, rather than anything Philadelphia's bats were doing.
"It was more me getting behind in the count," Kazmir said. "It's not like I really gave in too many at-bats good pitches within the first two, it was kind of either in the dirt or up and away to a righty. It's not like I was really getting them in swinging mode. That's what kind of hurt me in the beginning of the game. It kind of felt like they were just getting ahead in the count and looking for one pitch."
Unfortunately for Kazmir and the Rays, that one pitch made all the difference.
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.