MILWAUKEE " Douglas High School graduate Shawn Estes, 35, and Will Venable, 25, might as well be beginning their tryouts for big league jobs in 2009 in the final month of this season.
That doesn't mean the veteran and the rookie can't team to help the Padres finish 2008 strong. In his first start in three months, Estes (2-1) held the Brewers to one run in six innings, and Venable launched his first Major League homer in a 5-2 San Diego victory on Thursday to snap a nine-game road losing streak.
Estes' season can justly be described as depressing. He underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2006, missed all of 2007 and finally returned to the majors in May. After four starts, he went back to the disabled list with a freak injury. He fractured his left thumb trying to break his fall down stairs in the visitor's dugout of San Francisco's AT&T Park on May 31.
"I felt like I was starting to settle in to that feeling of pitching in the big leagues again," Estes said. "Then I break my thumb, and I have to start all over again."
Estes rehabbed and worked his way back to start Thursday's series opener against one of the most potent lineups in baseball. He wasn't dominating, but he didn't have to be. All he had to do was let Milwaukee hit it to third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, a former University of Nevada standout, who gobbled everything that came his way. Short hops, long hops, slow rollers, backhanders, you name it, and he got it.
"I didn't realize Mike Schmidt was at third base tonight," said Estes, who gave up seven hits and struck out one.
The stingy defense coupled with scattered runs helped ease Estes into the game. The left-hander threw 88 pitches, retired his final eight batters and reminded everyone he's not finished yet. Estes is a free agent at the end of the year. There's no guarantee that he'll be back on the Padres staff next spring.
"When you're off the radar for as long I've been, and then I came back on for four starts, and now I've been off again for three months, people have a tendency to forget about you," Estes said. "Fortunately, [the Padres] have confidence enough in me to put me out there so I do have the ability to showcase not only for my team but for the other 29 teams out there. Absolutely, this is a time when I need to go out there and prove to teams that I'm healthy and I can get big league hitters out."
RAYS' SECOND INNING DOOMS RASNER, YANKEES
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. " Willy Aybar capped a five-run second inning against Carson High grad Darrell Rasner (5-10) with a two-run single for Tampa Bay as the Rays beat the New York Yankees, 7-5, on Thursday. He hit a solo homer in the fourth off Alfredo Aceves.
Rasner, 0-3 in nine starts since last winning on July 12, allowed five runs and six hits in 1 1/3 innings. Aybar drove in the last two runs charged to the right-hander with a bases-loaded single off Aceves.
Scott Kazmir allowed one hit in six scoreless innings, and Tampa Bay's bullpen weathered ninth-inning home runs by Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez to hang on for the win.
Aybar homered and drove in three runs for the AL East-leading Rays, who avoided a three-game sweep and extended their lead in the division over second-place Boston to 3 1/2 games.
The Red Sox, who face Tampa Bay six times over the next two weeks, were idle.
Kazmir (11-6) limited the Yankees to Cody Ransom's fifth inning double, walked five and struck out seven, but a high pitch-count (98) prevented him from going deeper into the game. Ransom also singled off reliever Trever Miller in the seventh for New York's second hit.
Chad Bradford worked a scoreless eighth but Tampa Bay lost its bid for its 13th shutout of the season in the ninth when Jason Hammel gave up RBI single to Ransom, who finished 3-for-3, and home runs to Jeter and Rodriguez.
Jeter's three-run shot to right field moved him within four hits of tying Babe Ruth for second on the Yankees career hit list. Rodriguez followed with career homer No. 550 to trim New York's deficit to 7-5.
Dan Wheeler replaced Hammel and earned his 11th save in 14 opportunities, retiring Xavier Nady on a first-pitch fly ball.
The Rays, who lost a series for the first time since the All-Star break, looked bad in dropping the first two games.
Manager Joe Maddon attributed the flat performances to the way the Yankees have been playing lately and uncharacteristic mistakes by the Rays " not the pressure of being in a pennant race in September for the first time.
Tampa Bay improved the best record in the majors to 85-52, but is 6-9 against New York, one of two AL teams with winning marks against the Rays this year.
Kazmir walked four in the first three innings, including A-Rod twice. He didn't give up a hit until one out in the fifth when Ransom doubled on a fly ball to shallow right that fell in when Gabe Gross tried to make a shoestring catch.
Gross, Jason Bartlett and Akinori Iwamura also had RBIs during the five-run second against the Yankees starter.