Reggie Willits drew a two-out walk just before Maicer Izturis drove in the tying and go-ahead runs with a single in the seventh that ended Kazmir’s outing, and Maddon was ejected by Cousins after changing pitchers.
“That was unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like that before,” the 24-year-old Kazmir said. “I mean, you come into the game and some of the veteran guys are talking about an umpire that doesn’t like calling anybody out on strikes. They called him `shoe box.’ You shouldn’t change your zone just because of the count.”
There were 18 strikeouts in the game, and only two batters looked at strike three—Tampa Bay’s Willy Aybar in the fourth inning, and Matthews in the eighth.
“It’s a big advantage for a hitter if he knows that the guy’s not going to call somebody out on strikes,” said Kazmir, who pitched six scoreless innings against the Angels in a 2-0 victory on May 10 to begin his winning streak.
“As soon as Willits got up, it was like, `You can swing if you want to, but if not, just take your base. Thanks for coming. It’s all good.’ It’s like it was predetermined—like he already had it in his head what he was going to call. I thought I had Willits on the AB before that, too, and it didn’t get called.”
Maddon, who spent 31 years with the Angels and six as manager Mike Scioscia’s bench coach, has been ejected eight times in his three seasons as a manager—four times against the Halos.
“I didn’t like the calls. I didn’t like the calls at all. I was disappointed with that and I let my voice be heard,” Maddon said. “My biggest concern always is that the same strike zone is maintained throughout the game. That’s all I’m looking for—that things don’t change when it gets hot.”
The Rays were a franchise-record 13 games over .500 when they began this 3-6 road trip, which included a bench-clearing brawl at Boston and a confrontation on the mound between batterymates Matt Garza and Dioner Navarro that resumed in the dugout during a game at Texas. So it was fitting that it ended with a Maddon ejection in his old neighborhood.
“It was kind of interesting,” Maddon said. “We bonded very nicely on this trip.”
Izturis’ key hit came on Kazmir’s 117th pitch, but Maddon defended his decision to stay with Kazmir in that situation instead of going to the bullpen.
“He was the right guy for that moment, but it just didn’t happen,” he said. “Izturis was going to be his last hitter, anyway. He got him to two strikes, but Izturis has been hot and he just dumped one in there.”
Lackey (3-1) allowed two runs and four hits over 7 1-3 innings, striking out seven and walking two.
Scot Shields pitched two-thirds of an inning and Francisco Rodriguez worked a hitless ninth for his major league-leading 27th save in 28 chances. It was his 24th straight save, extending his club record.
Lackey, who had a career-high 19 wins and an AL-best 3.01 ERA last year, has a 1.83 ERA mark in six starts after spending the first 6 1-2 weeks of the season on the disabled list with a strained triceps. The right-hander is 9-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 11 career starts against Tampa Bay.
“I expected a tight game and I knew I was going to have to pitch well to win,” Lackey said. “When you’re going against a guy who’s as hot as he (Kazmir) has been and pitches as well as he has, you definitely don’t want to give in. There were some spots in there where I could have thrown fastballs, but I threw breaking balls instead thinking that one run may be the difference.”
Kazmir (6-2) allowed three runs and six hits in 6 2-3 innings with 10 strikeouts and three walks. He set down the first 14 batters he faced in the rematch before Matthews Jr. drove his seventh homer into the left field bullpen on the first pitch to tie the score. Kazmir also escaped a bases-loaded jam in the sixth, striking out Torii Hunter after intentionally walking Guerrero with runners at the corners.
“John doesn’t normally give up a lot of runs, and once he settles into the game and gets his tempo going, he gets really good,” Maddon said. “I liked the way we came after him in the beginning, but we needed to get more than that.”
The Rays got only one more hit until the seventh inning, when Longoria doubled to right-center to end Lackey’s string of 14 consecutive batters retired. Longoria advanced on Aybar’s groundout and scored on Navarro’s sacrifice fly, giving the Rays a 2-1 lead.
One day after going the distance in a 6-1 loss to Jeff Weaver, Rays RHP James Shields formally dropped his appeal of the six-game suspension he received for his role in the bench-clearing brawl at Boston. Shields triggered the melee by hitting Coco Crisp, one day after Crisp angered the Rays with a hard takeout slide against Iwamura at second base. … Shields will be eligible to pitch for the Rays again on June 19 in the finale of a three-game series with White Sox at Tropicana Field.