Rays can't solve Bannister in loss

Rays can't solve Bannister in loss

ST. PETERSBURG -- You had to like the Devil Rays' chances Friday night.

Kansas City came to town riding a seven-game losing streak. On top of that, the Rays have had their way with the team from the "Show-Me" state the last two seasons by taking nine of their previous 10 meetings. And staff ace Scott Kazmir was starting for the Rays against winless Brian Bannister.

But the Royals right-hander showed the Rays a thing or two about pitching en route to a 4-1 win in front of a crowd of 12,032 at Tropicana Field. On "Parrot Head Night" -- much of which celebrated vintage Jimmy Buffett tunes -- Bannister proved to be the "Cheeseburger in Paradise."

Bannister faced the minimum through four innings before the Rays managed to send four hitters to the plate in the fifth. No sweat. After Greg Norton's home run to lead off the fifth, Bannister retired the final 12 hitters he faced and his final line showed just two hits allowed and no walks in eight innings worked. Octavio Dotel pitched the ninth to preserve the victory.

The Royals' win snapped the Rays' seven-game winning streak against them at Tropicana Field dating back to Sept. 22, 2004.

"I thought [Bannister] was keeping the ball down and he was hitting his spots," manager Joe Maddon said. "And I thought [Jason] LaRue did a great job of catching tonight. He received the ball well on the edges of the strike zone. I thought he helped his pitcher out a lot tonight. His pitcher had a little carry on his fastball. He was spotting it, he was cutting it. He would four-seam it inside to the righties sometimes; he didn't throw a whole lot of breaking balls. But I thought primarily he kept the ball down and kept the ball off the fat part of the bat. But I thought their catcher did a really good job tonight."

Though Bannister recorded only his first win of the season, he lowered his ERA to 3.89.

"We got those runs early I was just trying to keep us in the game," Bannister said. "... We just stayed hard on them all night and it fooled them. ... I adapt to the hitters, I watch and make adjustments to them. ... I was just trying to react to the hitters I was locating my pitches well."

The Rays managed a season-low two hits, which has not happened since July 28 at Yankee Stadium and the team recorded its fewest hits at Tropicana Field since June 25 against the Braves.

"We didn't come out to play tonight," Kazmir said. "Not to take anything away from Bannister ... but we're better than that."

After experiencing a wayward third that saw the Royals score three, Kazmir settled down and did not allow any more runs in seven innings worked. And the longer he hung around, the more a comeback felt plausible, it just never came to fruition despite the fact all the little triggers were there to spark a turnaround.

Delmon Young threw out Emil Brown, who tried to stretch a single into a double against the Rays' right-field rifle; Elijah Dukes tracked down Esteban German's liner to right-center field to get to a ball most center fielders would never have reached; B.J. Upton, the gifted second baseman of the Rays, ran halfway to the wall in right field to effortlessly grab Mark Grudzielanek's blooper with two outs in the seventh; and Shawn Camp put out a fire by getting the final two outs of the eighth via strikeouts.

Whatever the Rays did, they never found an answer for Bannister.

"He's one of those guys who go out there and works his spots, works his cutter to lefties, that cutter might have moved one or two inches, just enough to keep it off the fat part of the bat," Rays first baseman Carlos Pena said. "... Kaz did a great job, tonight was just one of those nights. Kaz is out there, has a great outing, gives us an opportunity to win but we couldn't get anything going. Hats off to Kaz - the hitter's side just couldn't get a little rally going. And [Bannister] was throwing strikes. That's it."

Perhaps the high note of the night for the Rays came in the top of the ninth when Casey Fossum, who learned earlier in the day he had been sent to the bullpen, made his first relief appearance since the 2005 season. He worked quickly and retired the Royals in order, the final two on strikeouts. Given the nature of some of the team's seventh and eighth inning fiascos this season, Fossum's one inning provided a glimmer of hope for future games.

"Very aggressive in the zone," Maddon said. "Fastball in the 90s and sharp breaking stuff; so that's very encouraging for us also."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.