"It's a great feeling just to get the first [complete-game shutout] out of the way," Kazmir said. "It was great. It felt like yesterday, it was kind of a load off my shoulders. Just went out there and had fun."
Kazmir entered the ninth having thrown 106 pitches while allowing a lone single to Alex Gonzalez with one out in the third.
But plenty of suspense remained before the fans could breathe easy and witness the outcome they had hoped for.
Manny Ramirez led off the ninth inning personifying the Red Sox's frustration against Kazmir with his .107 (3-for-28) career average against him. This time Ramirez scorched a line drive to deep center field that Rocco Baldelli couldn't grab, leaving Kazmir to try and protect a 3-0 lead with a runner on second and no outs.
To say Kazmir did not wilt would be a huge understatement.
Jason Varitek batted next and Kazmir cut loose with a 95-mph fastball, which concerned Joe Maddon. Throughout the evening the Rays' manager had observed Kazmir's pitches arriving at home plate at speeds of 92-94 mph and grew worried Kazmir had begun to fall out of his rhythm. Pitching coach Mike Butcher was dispatched to the mound to settle the eager youngster.
"I had to calm it down a little bit," Kazmir said. "I was kind of overthrowing, trying to do too much. But I stayed within myself after Butch came out and talked to me. ... [He told me] just stay within myself, don't do anything extra. Just keep doing what I was doing the whole game. I just kind of took a deep breath and settled down."
He proceeded to strike out Varitek for the fourth time before retiring Mike Lowell on a pop out to first. By the time Gabe Kapler stepped into the batter's box, the crowd cheered wildly for Kazmir to finish it off. And he did just that, getting Kapler to ground out to shortstop Julio Lugo to end the game.
"He's a pretty impressive pitcher, one of the more impressive in the AL," Kapler said. "We saw very few counts go past two balls. He goes after hitters, and we have a lot of respect for him."
The only other time Kazmir got into trouble came in the third, when Lugo booted a potential double-play ball hit by Kevin Youkilis with one out. Kazmir responded to the situation by retiring Mark Loretta on a weak pop to second before battling David Ortiz and eventually walking him to load the bases and bring Ramirez to the plate.
"I was trying to go after [Ortiz]," Kazmir said. "Just kind of overthrew a fastball 3-2, kind of choked it a little bit, but after that I was already done and I was already thinking about what I was going to do with Manny."
Kazmir struck out Ramirez swinging on a slider to end the inning.
"Actually, I haven't had that pitch in quite awhile, so it was a great feeling to actually have a good feel for it," Kazmir said. "Being able to bury it, especially in a crucial situation."
In winning, Kazmir ran his record to 5-2 with a 2.60 ERA in 11 career starts against the Red Sox. Inside Tropicana Field, Kazmir's ERA against the Red Sox is 1.69.
"That was impressive," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He has the explosive fastball that we've seen from Day 1, but now he's mixing in that changeup and that slider. Some of those sliders he threw were about as good as I've seen."
Josh Beckett started for the Red Sox, bringing with him a newly-found penchant for surrendering home runs. Entering the 2006 season, Beckett's career high for home runs given up in a season was 16. Heading into Monday night's start, he'd already given up 20. Ty Wigginton and Russ Branyan expanded that total.
Wigginton deposited a 1-2 Beckett fastball in the left-field stands to give the Rays a 1-0 lead after three innings. Branyan, who has more home runs than singles for the Rays this season, led off the fifth by driving a 2-0 Beckett offering the opposite way for his 10th home run of the season and Wigginton followed with his second home run of the game on a 1-1 pitch from Beckett to push the Rays' lead to 3-0.
In modest fashion, Wigginton deferred all credit to Kazmir.
"He pitched like the All-Star he is today," Wigginton said. "He deserves all the credit. We were just watching the show."
Beckett sounded equally impressed.
"[Kazmir] shut down one of the premier lineups in the world," Beckett said. "He's pitching great. He pitched better than me, that's why they won and we lost."