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Rays instrumental in AL's triumph

Rays instrumental in AL's triumph

NEW YORK -- All of his buddies had long since departed, so Scott Kazmir was left alone in the American League bullpen. He sat. He fidgeted. He paced.

"I just had this feeling that I was going to find my way into the game," Kazmir said. "And sure enough, I did. Fifteenth inning -- how about that?"

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Kazmir's inning was as smooth as any, and when Michael Young finally ended things minutes later with a sacrifice fly, Tampa Bay's prized lefty had earned a win.

"It was getting a little nerve-wracking," Kazmir said.

And for good reason. As Tuesday's All-Star Game, the 79th in Major League history, ticked into extra innings, and eventually into early morning Wednesday, it became clear that Kazmir -- who had thrown 104 pitches in his last start, on Sunday -- was going to have to pitch. Then the bullpen emptied, and his expectation became a reality. Kazmir was even prepared to pitch in the 16th inning, had that much become necessary. He felt fine. He was no longer pacing.

Neither were the other two Rays, who followed a similar path. Step one: Sit for a long while. Step two: Enter the game. Step three: Play a critical role.

Tuesday's game was cruising along, in fact, until Rays rookie Evan Longoria stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter with two outs in the eighth inning. The National League was clinging to a one-run lead until Longoria drilled a game-tying ground-rule double to left field.

The hit ensured that a previously brief game would last deep into the night -- and well into the morning -- and that the Rays would continue to play significant roles.

"I thought it was going to mean that I was going to have a good rest of the day," Longoria joked.

Not quite. In the 10th inning, Longoria stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. After he dribbled a grounder toward third base, Cristian Guzman grabbed it and fired home for the force. So the game continued. Again.

In the 11th inning, Rays catcher Dioner Navarro walked with one out, moved to second on a single, then chugged toward home on Young's hit. The game appeared over, until center fielder Nate McLouth threw Navarro out at the plate.

Then in the 12th, Longoria came to the plate with the winning run on third base and one out. He struck out. And in the 14th inning, Longoria struck out as well.

"I figured it was over each time I came to bat," Longoria said. "I had three chances to win it. It was wearing on me a little bit in the dugout."

And so it continued, on and on, until Young's sacrifice fly in the 15th.

Which was fine by the Rays, who were all thrilled simply to be here.

This marked the first time the Rays had sent three players to an All-Star Game, and it was the first time since 1999 that they had multiple representatives. Considering their recent success -- they lead the AL Wild Card and continue to rank among the best teams in baseball -- that much was fitting.

And so Kazmir scanned the home clubhouse before Tuesday's game with satisfaction. Across the room to his left sat Navarro, chatting with a reporter. Two lockers from Navarro stood Longoria, signing baseballs for a clubhouse attendant. And then there was Kazmir, reflecting on a half-season of baseball and the success that came with it.

"It used to be, 'Who do we have to take from the Rays?'" Kazmir said. "Now, we get a little bit more respect."

That was a sentiment that both Longoria and Navarro shared.

"It's a dream come true," Longoria said. "We've been kind of the talk of the first half, and what we've done is awesome. But we've still got a lot left to do."

For Longoria, the shock of being here -- fans elected him in the Final Vote competition -- had worn off by Tuesday, though his nerves hadn't quite eased. A rookie third baseman batting .275 with 16 homers since cracking the Majors, Longoria got his greatest kicks from the All-Star parade that marched up Sixth Avenue on Tuesday afternoon, when random New Yorkers recognized him and called out his name. Imagine that.

"It's pretty wild, man," Longoria said. "Just two years ago, I was in college, not worrying about any of this. Now, it's crazy. It's a good feeling."

Also in that parade was Navarro, a catcher who burst out to a .310 average over the first half of the season. Navarro's All-Star experience was a bit different than most -- his wife is a Bronx native, so she spent the week escorting her husband and their oldest child around her old neighborhood.

"I'm just trying to enjoy every single minute of it," Navarro said. "I know I've been doing it. My son is having a blast. It's been such a wonderful experience for me, and hopefully, this will be the first one of many."

For Kazmir, it was a second appearance. And this time, he certainly enjoyed the company.

"It feels a little bit more relaxing now," Kazmir said. "You've got more than one guy representing. You're not the only one there, and I think we deserve it."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["all-star_game" ] }
{"content":["all-star_game" ] }