This game was OVER.
Until it wasn’t.
Two nights in a row Bobby Jenks let the Rays have hope. That is one night too many. This team is built for the comeback, and boy did they.
First, the Lineup
What was Joe Maddon thinking?
(I KNOW it’s an old picture, but it fits don’t you think?)
The Rays’ skipper put out a lineup that was missing two of its biggest hitters and filled in with bench players who do not get a whole lot of at bats.
And it worked!
To be honest, the Rays had mustered only 1 run on 4 hits up until the 9th inning. And those Rays he put into the game were able to go only 1/9, the lone hit being a single.
But Joe Dillon, Willy Aybar, and Gabe Kapler (LOVE that guy!) were able to help the defense and Jeff Nieman keep the game close until regulars Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and Gabe Gross entered the game in the 9th.
In the 9th, all hell broke loose for the Rays–in a good way.
The Fateful 9th Inning
Bobby Jenks entered tonight’s game in the 9th in much the same way he entered last night’s game: he had a 1-run lead, but he was starting the inning fresh and clean.
The Rays entered the 9th inning in the same way too–LOOKING TO WIN THE BALL GAME.
He immediately gave up a rocket to Jason Bartlett.
Nice, we have some speed on board.
Jenks then “plunked” Evan Longoria (it grazed his jersey and ended up hitting the umpire with more force than Evan).
Ok, now we’ve got a guy in scoring position.
Ben Zobrist, who was looking to extend his 10-game hitting streak, did just that with a rocket up the middle.
But since it was a liner Bartlett had to stop to make sure it went through. He could not get doubled off in the 9th. So he didn’t score, but
Bags are loaded with Pat “the Bat” Burrell up.
The fans were busy booing their closer when Burrell walked to force in the game tying run.
A dramatic moment that was lost on nobody sitting on my couch (um, me).
Carlos Pena entered the game to hit for Willy Aybar and launched what looked like a patented high fly grand slam to left. Instead, it turned into a sac fly double play (Burrell drew the throw as Longo scored).
WE HAVE THE LEAD!
CC walked and promptly stole second to put runners at 2nd and 3rd.
That was when Jenks had had enough and ended the inning on a weak Gross groundball.
But the damage was done.
In typical Rays style!
Rays up 3-2. Good times!
JP Howell would enter in the bottom of the 9th to close things out. He’s not officially the closer, but he has appeared in that capacity 4 of the last 5 games. What else do we call him?
Our closer entered the game and did what he does best: SHUT. THEM. DOWN.
The White Sox managed only a weak grounder up the middle and that was that. Howell struck out 2 of the 3 batters he retired, all the while making sure pinch hitter Dwayne Wise wasn’t going to try to steal second.
The fans booed.
Nieman the Dealin’ Demon
How’s that for a nickname?
Jeff Nieman was amazing tonight. He went 8 STRONG innings, walking NONE, giving up only 2 runs on 8 hits. He threw only 100 pitches in this outing and earned his team-leading 9th win.
This guy is making Andrew Friedman look like a genius for unloading Jason Hammel instead during spring training.
The tall Texan intimidated batters, blowing them away with his 94+ mph fastball. They couldn’t catch up to it.
Then he baffled the Sox hitters with his ankle-breaking curve. Hitters could not figure him out.
Especially Alexei Ramirez and Scott Podsednik, who both struck out twice against the Rays’ 6’10” hurler.
This was an outing that helps guys like Nieman get out of the shadow of the other Rays super-rookie (David Price) and garner some attention for himself for Rookie of the Year honors.
He was that good.
The Rays entered the game 15-19 against left handed pitching.
They shouldn’t have won tonight. Not with their lineup being dominated by Sox Clayton Richard.
They shouldn’t have won tonight. Not with the dominant Bobby Jenks entering the 9th with a 1-run lead (and boy oh boy was he booed tonight–not too classy Sox fans).
They shouldn’t have won tonight. Not with two of their best players gettiing most of the night off.
But the Rays DID win.
It was their best steal of the season.