Kazmir prepared for do-or-die game
Rays' championship hopes rest on left shoulder of young ace
PHILADELPHIA -- Not much has gone right for the Tampa Bay Rays in this World Series, which is why they'll report to Citizens Bank Park on Monday standing one game from elimination. Yet the underdog mentality has served the club well all season long, something that Scott Kazmir is well aware of.
Shouldered with the awesome responsibility of sending the Fall Classic back to Tropicana Field in a rematch with his Game 1 opponent, the Phillies' Cole Hamels, Kazmir said that he is ready to hold nothing back as he makes his final start of the season.
"I want the ball, definitely," Kazmir said. "It's going to be a tough game tomorrow. They've got their best guy up there and we feel like it's do or die for us. We know that. We're going to leave it all out there."
A crowd of 45,000-plus towel-waving Philadelphians will pack the stands for the last game to be played within these city limits in 2008, hoping they'll witness the Phillies celebrating their first title in 28 years.
It's up to Kazmir to make sure that doesn't happen, and with many all but ready to see the Phillies tack up protective sheeting and ruin some clubhouse carpeting, Kazmir believes it would be wonderful to spoil the party and create some history in the process.
"Definitely. Who wouldn't?" Kazmir said. "You're the underdog and it kind of feels like everyone's against you. You want to go out there and prove everyone wrong. It gives you that little chip on your shoulder."
The task, as manager Joe Maddon said, is to play the rest of the Series one game at a time.
"We have to win [Monday], obviously," Maddon said. "It's not about winning three, it's about winning tomorrow. That's what I want them to understand. I don't want them to look too far into the future, just win tomorrow."
Making it to a Game 6 at Tropicana Field would create a distinct home-field advantage. If the Rays force Game 7, momentum would all be on Tampa Bay's side.
Tale of the Tape: Game 5 Starters
|Rays' Scott Kazmir||Phils' Cole Hamels|
|Overall||27 GS, 12-8, 3.49 ERA, 70 BB, 166K||33 GS, 14-10, 3.09 ERA, 53 BB, 196 K|
|Key stat||9.81 K/9 IP (1st in AL, min. 150 IP)||3.70 K/BB (4th in NL)|
|2008||4 GS, 1-1, 4.15||4 GS, 4-0, 1.55|
|Career||4 GS, 1-1, 4.15||5 GS, 4-1, 2.02|
|2008||No record||17 GS, 7-7, 2.99|
|Career||1 GS, 1-0, 3.60||39 GS, 20-12, 3.29|
|2008 regular season||No record||No record|
|Career||1 GS, 1-0, 3.60||1 GS, 0-1, 12.27|
|Why he'll win||LHH batted .198, slugged .275||9-2, 2.07 last 12 starts (incl. playoffs)|
|Pitcher beware||Allowed 19 HR in 91 IP since All-Star (incl. playoffs)||Allowed 15 HR in 17 home starts|
|Bottom line||Seeking signature game||Still owning October|
"We haven't shown our best in this World Series," Kazmir said. "I think that if we can go ahead and get this next one, we'll take it back to Tropicana Field and it will be a different story. We just have to get through tomorrow and come out with a 'W.'"
Kazmir commanded the Phillies reasonably well through six innings in Game 1, though he took a 3-2 loss at Tropicana Field. The first World Series starter in Rays franchise history, Kazmir was saddled with his first defeat of the playoffs after allowing a two-run home run to Chase Utley in the first inning and a fourth-inning RBI groundout to Carlos Ruiz.
As Kazmir trots back out for Game 5, he said that pitching under the bright lights and in front of the national television audience the Fall Classic demands could only help him the second time around. It will be his third career start against the Phillies, having also faced them in June 2006 at Philadelphia.
"You get more comfortable with it," Kazmir said. "You get to see the team that you're facing that you haven't faced before quite a few times, so you see how they adjust, how they approach certain hitters. I watched J.P. Howell and some of the left-handers that we throw against these guys and see how they react against certain pitches that our guys throw. You can work that into your game."
Kazmir's main flaw has been working into high pitch counts early. In fact, Kazmir has averaged 19.24 pitches per inning through his first four postseason starts, having led the Major Leagues in pitches per inning for each of the last three seasons as well.
In an encouraging development for the Rays, Kazmir said that he feels like his slider -- an important pitch for him to offset his moving fastball -- is growing into more and more of a go-to pitch at this late stage of the season.
"It felt like last game, everything started to feel a little more comfortable," Kazmir said. "I was getting a better feel for it, and I was able to throw it in any count, behind the count, ahead of the count and just feel a little more comfortable as the game was going on."
As Kazmir and Hamels get set for the Game 1 rematch -- leaving plenty of batter-by-batter video for the FOX crew to work through -- Kazmir has no issue sending a platitude across the way to his fellow 24-year-old left-hander, though he remains confident in his own abilities.
"Facing him, it looks like to him that every pitch he throws, everything that he does, you feel like he's on point right now," Kazmir said. "So it feels like every pitch you throw is going to be a crucial pitch. You feel like you want to throw up zeroes. And if you don't, it's going to be tough to get a win. He really has everything going right now. So it feels like you have to be on your 'A' game to beat that guy."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.