ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. —The Tampa Bay Rays have turned the standings upside down.
Scott Kazmir won his fourth straight start, striking out 10 in seven innings to lead the AL East-leading Rays over the Texas Rangers 7-3 Monday night.
Eric Hinske hit a three-run homer for the Rays, who have won 16 of their last 17 home games and at 31-20 have the best record in the major leagues. Tampa Bay is just the second team—joining the 1903 New York Giants—to have the best mark on Memorial Day after finishing with the worst record in the big leagues the previous season (66-96).
“That’s something that I’ve always dreamed about,” said Rays left fielder Carl Crawford, who joined the team in 2002. “We want to keep playing good and be consistent. We know that a lot of people think we’ll probably fade at the end. We just want to try to show people it’s no fluke. We want to try and keep it going.”
While Tampa Bay is 11 games over .500 for the first time, the Rays drew an announced crowd of just 12,174 for the holiday game. Tampa Bay has never won more than 70 games in a season during its first 10 years of play.
“Everything is going our way now,” Rays catcher Dioner Navarro said. “We want to keep doing it for the whole season.”
Kazmir (4-1) retired his first 10 batters, seven on strikeouts, before Michael Young singled to center with one out in the fourth. Kazmir allowed one run and three hits, striking out the side in the first and third innings. He has given up two runs over 26 innings during his winning streak.
“I guess you could say there was too much Scott Kazmir,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “He kept us off balance with his fastball and his changeup in the zone. He worked fast and hit the strike zone.”
Kazmir missed the first month of the season with a strained left elbow. It was his first 10-strikeout game this year, and 15th overall.
“My slider finally came back,” Kazmir said. “I felt like I was trusting it a little more. Everything felt good.”
Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton, taken by the Rays with the first overall pick in the 1999 amateur draft, went 0-for-4 in his first game at Tropicana Field. Hamilton is in his second major league season after overcoming injuries and addictions to cocaine and alcohol that kept him off the field from 2003-05.
When he was introduced, Hamilton received a standing ovation and a few boos.
“It felt good,” Hamilton said. “As far as the choices I made, they weren’t great, but I always took time with the fans when I was with the Devil Rays, so I’m glad to get the support.”
Sidney Ponson (3-1) gave up five runs and 12 hits in five innings for Texas, which is 19-11 since April 25. Ian Kinsler had three RBIs, including a two-run homer.
Run-scoring singles by Carlos Pena in the first and B.J. Upton in the fourth put the Rays ahead 2-0, and Hinske homered in the fifth.
“The worst pitch I did was the three-run homer,” Ponson said. “That put the team in a big hole early and we didn’t get out of it.”
Tampa Bay had at least two hits in each of the first six innings, and went 6-for-14 with runners in the scoring position during the stretch. Navarro hit an RBI double in the sixth, and Upton had a sacrifice fly one inning later.
Kinsler had a sixth-inning sacrifice fly and added a two-run shot in the ninth against Gary Glover.