Sometimes you win games you have no business competing in. Tonight was one of those. Scott Kazmir exploded, placing the Rays down 7-0 early and leaving to an array of boos. We'll get to him later.
The defense kept the deficit at seven thanks to some nifty glove work from Gabe Gross, Evan Longoria, and of course B.J. Upton, who not only threw a runner out at home plate, but made a nice sliding catch later on along with a catch on a ball essentially hit into right field. Upton would make an impact offensively as well, doubling and later scoring the Rays first run. A few innings later he would single, but was left stranded at third base.
So naturally, Upton would lead off the bottom of the ninth against a pitcher freshly added to the gas station in disguise known as the 2009 Indians bullpen. Luis Vizcaino is not a hard-thrower; he tops out around 90 miles per hour nowadays, down from years past. His first pitch was a fastball high and away, his next a slider down, then a fastball away, then a slider away, then a fastball up and in, and finally another fastball up and over the middle. Upton, unlike so many times this season, swung and connected, reminding us of his 2007 power and 2008 playoff slaughter all over again. To put it in his own words, he chilled.
For someone often maligned by clueless radio hosts as apathetic and careless, Upton flashed as much emotion as you'll see from him in a non-clinching game. Smiling, laughing, dancing, and even creeping his way to the plate, as if to savor those last moments of the jog while preparing for the mugging. Despite some self-inflicted gaffes and flaws, Upton has remained quiet and dedicated to doing whatever he can to help the Rays win. That goes back to the days when he shuffled around position-to-position finding a spot where his glove and athleticism would work. If you can't appreciate his hard-work, that's a problem with you, not him.
Where we all wait in earnest with pudding in hand for the Upton comet to sail through the roofed skies, so that we may meet Him.
He certainly sent something sailing tonight.
Upton was hardly the only bright spot in tonight's victory. The bullpen tossed an impressive five and two-thirds in relief without allowing a single run. Major kudos to Lance Cormier for going 2.7 innings and allowing only one baserunner while striking three out and bridging the gap. Troy Percival did what was required of him without allowing a runner on, J.P. Howell allowed a hit, and Dan Wheeler walked one but avoided any damage despite an inherited runner.
Ben Zobrist continues mocking the sabermetric community by hitting another bomb which goes against everything we knew about him (Tommy should have more on him later), Carl Crawford, and Jason Bartlett also had good offensive games.
And then there's Scott Kazmir.
Take someone who has driven on the right side of the street their entire life and suddenly tell them to drive on the left side only, there's going to be a few accidents along the way. That's essentially what we have with Kazmir. His entire career has consisted of overpowering batters with good fastball velocity and mixing in his slider. Now his velocity is gone and he's yet to figure out how to adjust. Will he? Nobody knows. Starts like tonight's are going to lead his way off the active roster, either via trade or to the disabled list. There's simply nothing positive to pull from Kazmir's start. Nothing. The front office is well aware of the Kazmir issue; it's just a matter of what they can realistically pursue. What Andrew Friedman does over the next few weeks with Kazmir is going to define the season.
Sadly, this is the fifth straight iffy start. The bullpen needs a starter to go 7-8 in a blowout over the next few days, preferably the next few days in a row.
J.P. Howell is not the talking type, man.