Kazmir roughed up early in defeat

Kazmir roughed up early in defeat

ST. PETERSBURG -- Around the state of Florida, school bells signaled the beginning of classes on Monday.

That may have been partly to blame for a surprisingly low turnout of 16,843 at Tropicana Field, considering the Red Sox, who usually draw large crowds on the road, were in town.

The fans who were in attendance, though, probably felt like they were also getting an education as Red Sox right-hander Tim Wakefield once again put on a clinic in how to toss the knuckleball, especially against Tampa Bay as he improved to 19-2 all-time against the Rays in a 6-0 win.

The 41-year-old knuckleballer allowed four hits and walked only one batter while striking out five over seven innings. With the win, Wakefield improved to 9-0 in his career at Tropicana Field while recording his fourth win of the season against the Rays.

"I've seen him in the past and it's as good as I've seen him, his combination of movement and being able to throw it where he wants it," said manager Joe Maddon. "He's just on his game. And, of course, he likes pitching against us. The dome is a comfort zone for him and when it's moving that much, you just don't have an answer for it."

Wakefield, who has not allowed a run in 15 consecutive innings and has not given up a run to the Rays in his last 19 innings against them, was effectively dealing, causing fits to even the Rays' hottest hitter.

"It's like a softball, but it's moving more, like a Whiffle Ball," said Carl Crawford, who entered the game with a .329 career average against Wakefield but went hitless in three at-bats against him on Monday. "He knows what he's doing out there. He knows where to start the pitch. And he throws it a different way depending on where I stand.

"He isn't just throwing it down the middle any more. When I moved up, he threw it a different way, and then when I moved back, he threw it a different way. It took me a while to believe anyone can control a knuckleball, but he can."

For Scott Kazmir, a foot here and there meant a case of good news and bad news for the night.

The 23-year-old lefty entered the contest on a roll, having posted a 4-1 record with a 1.01 ERA since the All-Star break, which was second best in the Majors to Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb. Kazmir was on pace for the fourth-best ERA after the break since 1957.

On Monday, Kazmir broke his own single-season club record of 174 with eight strikeouts, giving him a total of 176 for the season.

Unfortunately, the bad came early as the Red Sox jumped on Kazmir with two runs in the first inning and three more in the second.

"He's just on his game. And, of course, he likes pitching against us. The dome is a comfort zone for him and when it's moving that much, you just don't have an answer for it."
-- Joe Maddon, on Tim Wakefield

Kazmir had not allowed a run to the Sox in his last 12 innings, but the scoreless streak soon ended.

Dustin Pedroia ripped a single to left on Kazmir's first pitch of the game. After Kevin Youklis walked, Kazmir appeared as if he might escape any damage when he induced Bobby Kielty into a fielder's choice to retire Youklis at second and then struck out Manny Ramirez looking.

But Akinori Iwamura couldn't handle Mike Lowell's hard-hit grounder down the left-field line, allowing two runs to score. Kazmir ended the inning with one of his record-breaking strikeouts against J.D. Drew.

"A couple inches here and there could have made things different," said Maddon. "I know it would have been tough the way Wakefield was pitching. But like I said, things might have been different with a couple inches here and there."

The Red Sox continued to inflict damage on Kazmir in the second as Coco Crisp led off the inning with a ground-rule double to right that Delmon Young chased down in the corner and came close to catching. Following a groundout by Julio Lugo and a walk by Kevin Cash, Crisp scored when Pedroia laced a single to left.

Youklis reached base again with a single and, following a strikeout by Kielty, both he and Cash scored when Ramirez singled to left. Following a wild pitch by Kazmir, the lefty intentionally walked Drew Mike Lowell before inducing Drew to ground out and end the inning.

"I actually felt good, but what are you going to do?" said Kazmir, who allowed a season-high six runs and lost for the first time in seven career starts against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field. "I'm frustrated about losing, but I have to just let this one go."

After the second inning, Kazmir retired 11 of 13 batters. One of the batters Kazmir didn't retire was Lowell, who smacked a solo homer to left in the fifth, which snapped a stretch of 61 consecutive homerless innings for the left-hander dating back to June 28 against the White Sox. Kazmir was relieved in the sixth after tossing 108 pitches, 64 for strikes.

Besides Kazmir's record-breaking strikeout, another bright spot for the Rays was the performance of the bullpen. Juan Salas and Jon Switzer allowed only one hit and one walk over 3 1/3 innings.

Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.