Scott Kazmir pitched like an All-Star again, shrugging off trade rumors and helping the Tampa Bay Rays slow down the streaking New York Yankees.
Kazmir outpitched CC Sabathia to win for the first time in more than two months, and the defending AL champions backed the young left-hander with timely hitting and superb defense in a 6-2 victory Tuesday night.
“People have been wanting more out of him, but he’s been putting himself back together slowly. What you saw tonight was some really good work,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said after Kazmir allowed one run and five hits in a season-high seven-plus innings.
“That’s as good a game as I’ve seen out of him,” Maddon added, “in about a year.”
An All-Star in 2008, Kazmir struggled late in the year and again early this season before spending five weeks on the disabled list recovering from a right quad strain and working on his pitching mechanics.
His winless streak covered seven starts, five since being reinstated from the DL on June 27.
“I feel like after the (All-Star) break, me thinking about my mechanics – that kind of mental side – was completely out the window,” Kazmir said. “I was just concentrating on throwing the ball where I wanted to.”
Evan Longoria hit a solo homer and Carl Crawford had an RBI triple off Sabathia (10-7), and the Yankees lost for just the second time in 12 games since the All-Star break.
The AL East leaders got more bad news when they learned right-hander Chien-Ming Wang will undergo season-ending arthroscopic surgery on his injured pitching shoulder.
“It’s a tough loss for us,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I feel for him. He’s been through a lot the last 14, 15 months. Hopefully this is will be the end of the surgeries for him and he’ll have the rest of his career be real healthy. We’ll be there for him and we’ll help him get through this. We’ll get him back pitching as soon as we can.”
A subject of speculation with the non-waiver trade deadline approaching on Friday, Kazmir (5-6) responded with his strongest performance of the season to notch his first win May 9, against Boston.
The 25-year-old left-hander took a four-hitter into the eighth inning and retired 10 of 12 batters he faced after giving up a RBI single to Hideki Matsui with one out in the fourth. He left the game after allowing a leadoff single to Nick Swisher in the eighth, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd of 32,304.
“It was a little emotional,” Kazmir said, adding that it did cross his mind that he might have been making his final start for Tampa Bay. “To get the ovation that I got was special. I’ll remember that a long time.”
Sabathia, 7-1 lifetime against Tampa Bay before Tuesday, allowed six runs and nine hits in 5 2-3 innings.
Longoria’s homer put Tampa Bay up 4-1 in the fifth. The Rays chased the Yankees ace with two more runs in the sixth on Jason Bartlett‘s RBI infield single and B.J. Upton‘s bloop double that drove in Bartlett from first.
“This is horrible. We’re too good of a team for me to not even give us a chance. It’s definitely frustrating,” Sabathia said. “We have been playing well, but you want to continue to keep playing well. These are games in our division that we need to win.”
The victory enabled the third-place Rays to move back within 6 1/2 games of the Yankees in the division. New York’s 11-4 win in the series opener on Monday night had dropped Tampa Bay a season-high 7 1/2 off the pace.
Kazmir, the losing pitcher last Thursday when the Rays were the victim of Mark Buehrle‘s perfect game in Chicago, walked one and struck out four in a season-high seven-plus innings. Grant Balfour, Randy Choate and J.P. Howell finished, with Choate allowing a run-scoring double to Matsui in the ninth.
Sabathia fanned Crawford in the fifth inning for his 1,500th career strikeout. … Rays 2B Akinori Iwamura, who had surgery last month to repair a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, fielded ground balls for the first time since being injured in late May. There’s still no timetable for him to begin a rehab assignment. … Yankees LF Johnny Damon retrieved the ball he hit for his 200th career homer Monday night after a fan tossed it back onto the field from the right-field stands. He plans to put it on display at his home, along with the balls he hit for his first and 100th homers. … Yankees LHP Damaso Marte (left shoulder inflammation) allowed three homers and three hits in 1 2-3 innings of a rehab outing at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.