Comeback win extends Rays' lead

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. --- The young, resilient Rays are one win from breezing into the American League Championship Series.

All-Star left-hander Scott Kazmir settled down after a shaky start, Akinori Iwamura hit a go-ahead, two-run homer, and the AL East champions beat the Chicago White Sox 6-2 Friday for a 2-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.

"This is just awesome," said Rocco Baldelli, who singled in a run.

Giving many fans a close-up look of the formula that transformed Tampa Bay from a last-place team to a division winner, the Rays rallied for the second day in a row.

The Rays will go for a sweep when the series resumes Sunday in Chicago. Tampa Bay's Matt Garza (11-9) will face John Danks (12-9).

"We're a relaxed bunch," Baldelli said. "We chill out in the clubhouse. We have fun. That's what got us here."

Of the 35 teams to fall behind 2-0 in the division series before this year, five have come back to advance.

"We're against the wall," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "We've got to fight like a cat, and now it's a must-win game."

Chicago scored twice in the first on Jim Thome's RBI single and Alexei Ramirez's sacrifice fly. But Kazmir struck out Juan Uribe with the bases loaded to minimize the damage.

Dioner Navarro's run-scoring single off Mark Buehrle in the second began the comeback. Then, Iwamura gave Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead with a drive into the left-center field stands off Buehrle in the fifth.

"I knew it was gone," Iwamura said.

The Rays added three runs in the eighth.

At 24, Kazmir is the youngest member of Tampa Bay's rotation and already the franchise's career wins leader. But high pitch counts have been an issue for the two-time All-Star, who threw 37 in the first inning.

"Be patient. That was my thought," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Kazmir's struggles. "... If he was able to get through that, I thought he might be able to settle in; and he did."

Kazmir allowed two runs and eight hits in 5q innings. Tampa Bay's bullpen pitched 3w scoreless innings, with J.P. Howell and Chad Bradford following Grant Balfour.


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