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Fenway doesn't faze Kazmir
Fenway doesn't faze Kazmir
By T.R. Sullivan
ANAHEIM -- Fenway Park can be a daunting place for left-handed pitchers.
The Green Monster left-field wall sits just over 300 feet from home plate down the line and makes an inviting target for slugging right-handed hitters. Some of the best left-handed pitchers in history have had more than their share of problems.
From 1954-65, Yankees Hall of Famer Whitey Ford was 6-6 with a 5.25 ERA in 11 starts and four relief appearances at Fenway. Manager Casey Stengel used to alter his rotation so that Ford could avoid pitching at Fenway.
The Angels don't worry about that with Scott Kazmir. When manager Mike Scioscia sends Kazmir to the mound to face the Red Sox in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Sunday, he'll be sending out one of the most successful left-handers to have ever pitched at Fenway.
Kazmir, who was acquired by the Angels on Aug. 28 from the Tampa Bay Rays, has made 13 starts in his career at Fenway and is 6-4 with a 3.05 ERA there. Since 1954, that's the second-lowest ERA among the 48 left-handed pitchers who have made 10 or more starts at the Red Sox home park. Only Sam McDowell, at 2.67, had a lower ERA.
"If there's one thing I could point to for my success, I'd just say I'm able to mix up my pitches and get good defense behind me, and just try to put up some zeros," Kazmir said. "But this is the type of team you can't take lightly. You can have a couple of good starts against them and the next thing you know, they'll go out and punish you. They have a highly-potent offense. They're not going to go down without a fight."
"Early in his career, he actually dominated us," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He threw some games where he overpowered us; fastball, slider. We've had some games where we've really made him work hard also. Some of the numbers you see are from early in his career when he just overwhelmed us."
Kazmir has had a couple of good starts at Fenway this season. He beat the Red Sox, 7-2, in the second game of the season there and again, 14-5, on May 9. The victories were significant in another way. They represented half of his victory total at the All-Star break during what was a miserable first half.
Kazmir was 4-5 with a 7.11 ERA at the All-Star break. That was the second-highest ERA in the Major Leagues among pitchers with at least 10 starts. This was from a guy who was 45-34 with a 3.51 ERA in the previous four seasons. That 3.51 ERA was the 11th best among pitchers with at least 500 innings over those four years and had earned him a three-year, $28.5 million extension in May of 2008 that runs through 2011.
But in the first half of this season, Kazmir seemed lost as his breaking ball and changeup were posted for desertion.
"I was basically trying to throw my fastback somewhere in the strike zone and hope they hit at somebody," Kazmir said. "I didn't have a good delivery. I was trying to make up stuff."
He started figuring it out after the All-Star break. He started getting a feel for his pitches and mechanics. He went 4-2 with a 4.41 ERA in eight starts. The Angels liked what they saw and acquired him from the Rays on Aug. 28. It was a huge morale boost for a team that was already pulling away in the AL West.
"It was big," veteran reliever Darren Oliver said. "We needed that big-time. He can shut down a lineup, especially one with a lot of good left-handed hitters. The ball comes out of his hand good."
The trade caught Kazmir by surprise. The Rays were still in the pennant race and it was past the July 31 Trade Deadline.
"It was tough in the beginning," Kazmir said. "The Rays were four games out and it happened on August 28. I thought trade talks were over. But I talked to all the guys here and I started to get excited knowing I was going to be part of a franchise that is known for winning."
The Angels were up five games on the Rangers at the time of the trade. They were dealing with some starting-pitching issues but a division title still seemed comfortably within reach. It was their fifth in six years. They have that part down. They needed Kazmir for the playoffs and facing the Red Sox at Fenway is a good place for him to start considering his past success there.
Kazmir went 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA in six starts for the Angels, who ended up winning the division by 10 games. The playoffs could reveal the real value of the trade but Kazmir knows what postseason is like after having made five starts for the Rays during their run to the World Series.
"You know what to expect and you're not overwhelmed," Kazmir said. "I don't put any extra pressure on myself. I just think of myself having Game 3 and doing my part. I don't think they made the trade for just one start. You just think that every game you start, you have to be the guy and put up zeros."
Kazmir goes to Fenway with two tough acts to follow. Angels starters John Lackey and Jered Weaver combined to allow one run in 14 2/3 innings in the first two games in Anaheim.
The Angels are now up 2-0 in the series, and Kazmir said he benefits in other ways from following Lackey and Weaver.
"You just see how Weaver and Lackey pitched those guys," Kazmir said. "They really attacked the zone and used every one of their pitches. You just get a good idea for all their hitters, so it really helped out."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.