ST. PETERSBURG -- Scott Kazmir followed Josh Beckett as Houston's next high school pitching stud. He went with the 15th overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft in 2002, three years after the Florida Marlins took Beckett second overall. He made his Major League debut at age 20, eight months younger than Beckett when he reached the big leagues. And his one shutout in the Majors came when he first pitched opposite Beckett in 2006 as division rivals.
Kazmir's career was intertwined with Beckett in some way or another long before he arrived in the big leagues. But they've never been paired on this sort of stage. Now that they're matched up for Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night at Tropicana Field, the comparisons are inescapable.
"There's quite a few things that you can take out of someone like that," Kazmir said, "that's been there, done everything, and really knows how to go about his business."
If Kazmir and his Tampa Bay teammates are to get a World Series title to match Beckett, Saturday becomes a must-win business.
Their big league meetings have actually been their only meetings. Since they were so far apart in age and in different prep districts, they never faced each other in high school. Kazmir said he watched Beckett during those years and then followed his career into the pros as the latest, greatest pitcher from Texas.
There was only so much the left-handed Kazmir could pick up from the right-handed Beckett. The competitiveness, however, was something that Kazmir could carry over to his game.
Kazmir vs. Red Sox in 2008
"You just pick up a lot of things from a guy like that, just how competitive he is and how he goes about his business and what-not," Kazmir said. "I get a chance to talk to him whenever I can and kind of pick apart his brain and see what I can kind of put into my game."
When they finally had a chance to face off against each other two years ago, the youngster got the better end of the showdown at Tropicana Field. While Beckett ended up with a quality start, having allowed three runs over seven innings, Kazmir tossed a complete-game two-hitter with two walks and 10 strikeouts.
Despite being in the same division, it took more than a year before they would line up for the rematch, again on the Rays' home turf. In that rendition, the Red Sox knocked out Kazmir after five innings, allowing Beckett to cruise to his 20th victory last season over six innings of one-run ball.
9.27 Ks-per 9 IP at Tropicana Field (2nd best in Majors)
Road ERA is nearly three runs lower than home (4th in AL)
1 GS, 1-0, 3.38 ERA
1 GS, 0-0, 7.20 ERA
124 GS, 47-37, 3.61 ERA, 341 BB, 783 K
196 GS, 89-62, 3.78 ERA, 371 BB, 1131 K
1 GS, 1-0, 3.38 ERA
10 GS, 7-0, 2.09 ERA
At Tropicana Field
14 GS, 8-2, 2.90 ERA
2 GS, 0-1, 1.20 ERA
61 GS, 21-14, 3.10 ERA
4 GS, 1-2, 1.93 ERA
Loves to face:
David Ortiz (8-for-39)
Carlos Pena (3-for-17)
Hates to face:
Dustin Pedroia (14-for-25)
Jason Bartlett (6-for-18)
Why he'll win:
If he can escape first inning and keep pitch count low, slider and high fastball combination can be lethal.
3-0 in ALCS games, and knows how to perform in big moments.
Whenever the Rays and Red Sox met this year, Kazmir and Beckett always seemed to start one day apart. They both ended up with 12-win, injury-shortened seasons that still piled up high strikeout totals. But while Beckett went 2-1 in his five matchups with the Rays -- both wins at Fenway Park -- Kazmir went 0-2 in four starts against Boston, allowing 18 earned runs over 18 innings with six homers and 14 walks.
It has been part of the growing process for him in a season that didn't have all the success expected, but Kazmir showed a lot of the competitiveness and a good bit of the progress manager Joe Maddon wanted to see from him.
"I think maturation-wise, what you're seeing right now is the fact that he's been around for a couple years and he's been struggling with his command," Maddon said. "But he's still been able to work through those moments and be very good for us this year.
"It's very easy to look good when everything is going well. It's difficult to look good when things aren't going entirely your way, and I don't think he gets enough credit for being as tough as he is. I think that's going to bear itself out over time. People are going to become more familiar with that."
His toughness was on display for everyone to see in the Division Series. He was another first-inning hit away from what could have been a disastrous outing in Game 2 against the White Sox after allowing four of Chicago's first five batters to reach safely. He held them to two runs that inning, but he needed 37 pitches to get out of it.
After two more baserunners in the second, he settled down to retire nine of the next 11 batters he faced. He lasted long enough for Akinori Iwamura's go-ahead two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth to earn a victory.
"A lot of guys, when they're faced with that moment, tend to go the other way," Maddon said. "Then they're out of the game and they don't give you five or six innings. He's battled through some tough moments just based on command, and he knows it, and it's not a big secret. He's working on it constantly, and it's going to get better."
Sometimes, Maddon said, those things come together at the snap of a finger. One good example, coincidentally, was Beckett, whose 2003 postseason saw him grow up in a hurry to dominate for the Marlins in October. If Kazmir can do that Saturday, the Rays would gladly take it and head to Boston with a two-game split.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.