ST. PETERSBURG -- Scott Kazmir struggled throughout the 2008 regular season, which prompted considerable second-guessing by manager Joe Maddon prior to Game 5.
The Rays' skipper decided to flip-flop Kazmir and James Shields in the rotation to take advantage of the fact that Kazmir seems comfortable pitching at Fenway Park and Shields has been especially good at Tropicana Field.
And despite the naysayers, Kazmir answered the challenge in Game 5, giving the Rays six scoreless innings while holding the Red Sox to just two hits.
The left-hander would have picked up the win if Boston had not come back after he left the game, which left his performance as a footnote after a game that had a wild finish.
Maddon made sure nobody forgot Kazmir on Friday when he talked to the media during the off-day prior to Game 6, which will be played Saturday night at Tropicana Field.
"First of all, nobody is talking about how well Kaz pitched yesterday," Maddon said. "That was a great performance by Kaz. It's unfortunate the way the game played out, but Kaz did a great job with the two hits over six, and that permits Shieldsy to come back [Saturday]."
In Maddon's eyes, variety keyed Kazmir's performance.
"I thought he used his other pitches more often, and that was the one thing I encouraged him to do," Maddon said. "One of the things I was taught early on was to not let your pitcher get wild with his fastball.
Since the ALCS became a best-of-seven series in 1985, six teams have taken a 3-2 edge into Game 6 with the home-field advantage. Three of those teams won Game 6 to advance to the World Series, one lost Game 6 but then won Game 7, and two teams lost both Games 6 and 7 at home.
Games 6 and 7
Tor. lost both
Tor. won Gm 6
NYY won Gm 6
NYY won Gm 6
NYY lost Gm 6, won Gm 7
NYY lost both
"So I wanted him to throw other pitches, not just keep trying to find the fastball. Throw your slider more often. Throw your changeup more often. Mix the other pitches in. I thought he would feel his fastball better because of that."
Kazmir has not used his slider much this season, never feeling really comfortable with the pitch thought to be his best entering this season. That was not the case Thursday night.
"The one thing that I saw was more slider, and he had some big strikeouts with it, too," Maddon said. "That was primarily the difference. I thought I could just see his body language. He was really developing a rhythm out there with what he was doing. That's what I saw as being different. His confidence was beginning to build up as the game progressed."
Using Kazmir in Game 5 now appears to be a calculated gamble that paid off and could turn into a growth moment.
"Absolutely [it could be a growth moment], and he did his job superbly last night, gave us every chance to win this game," Maddon said. "... I was trying to look at the entire event, him doing what he did last night, and if we continue to move into the next round, that game could really catapult him into the World Series and a great performance there."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.