When Scott Kazmir went out to throw his warmup pitches in the fifth inning of last night's 5-2 victory over the Red Sox, the Devil Rays rookie had to give himself a mental slap in the face.
"I kind of stopped myself," said Kazmir. "I was just going through the motions and in my mind I was saying to myself, `Is this really happening? Am I at Fenway, pitching against Pedro?' It's incredible."
Kazmir is having a season young ballplayers dream about. He started in the low minors, moved up, was traded, played for another minor league team, then was called up to the majors -- all in a matter of 41 days.
And last night he went against Pedro Martinez, in storied Fenway Park, and outshined the Red Sox ace.
He is the youngest pitcher in the majors at 20 years 7 months, and last night he throttled the Red Sox for six scoreless innings, scattering three hits, two by Kevin Millar (single and double). He threw 92 pitches, including many 90-m.p.h.-plus fastballs, and 52 of his pitches were for strikes.
It has been a storybook season for the one-time Baseball America High School Player of the Year at Cypress Falls in Houston (Class of 2002), who threw six no-hitters during his school days and broke Josh Beckett's season strikeout record in Texas with 175.
Kazmir began this year in the Florida State League with the St. Lucie Mets, playing games "before about 100 people -- but when we had Fireworks Night, we had a lot more."
The night before the Fourth of July, he was promoted to Binghamton of the Eastern League and on July 30 he was traded by the Mets to the Devil Rays along with pitcher Jose Diaz in exchange for pitchers Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato.
Kazmir pitched four games for the Montgomery Biscuits of the Southern League before being called up by Tampa Bay Aug. 23 and making his major league debut that night at Seattle. He won, going five innings in a 9-0 rout of the Mariners.
"It's been hectic, crazy," said Kazmir. "One day I'm in Florida, next day I'm in Binghamton, N.Y., and the next day I'm traded. And the next day I'm in the big leagues. It's been a whirlwind. I couldn't be happier or more excited in the situation I'm in right now."
Pitching at Fenway was a highlight.
"It was unbelievable," said Kazmir. "It was unreal, indescribable, a lot of fun. It was awesome. It pumped me up, especially with the people talking trash and everything. That kind of gets me going."
Kazmir had only 16 major league innings under his belt when he took the mound last night, but he had yet to have a 1-2-3 inning.
"I didn't even know that," he said. "I didn't even have a clue."
But he got the side in order three times last night, striking out the side (Gabe Kapler, Johnny Damon, Mark Bellhorn) in the third. When he opened the fourth by whiffing Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, it gave him five consecutive strikeouts. Jason Varitek then fouled out to give Kazmir his second perfect inning.
He got out of trouble in the second via a double play, and the only other time the Red Sox threatened was the fifth, which began with a double by Millar and was followed by a walk to Orlando Cabrera.
But Kazmir struck out Kevin Youkilis, got Kapler to foul out to Toby Hall behind the plate, and helped his own cause by picking off Millar at second base.
"I'll tell you what," said his manager, Lou Piniella. "He did himself proud tonight. Six good innings. He got out of a tough jam. It's refreshing to see a young man compete like that. He used all his pitches."
Said Hall, "He's got nasty stuff, an electric fastball, and threw all his pitches for strikes. There's no limit for the kid."