…And then it all came down to the ninth inning. Tigers ace, Justin Verlander, had thrown a gem of a game. Up to that point, Verlander had only given up a hit and a walk, while holding the Rays to eight innings of shutout baseball. Meticulously slicing the Rays up like a surgeon with a killer knee buckling curve-ball, along with the other dangerous weapons in his arsenal of pitches, the Rays batters looked as though they didn’t have a chance. James Shields held his own as well. Finding his way to the dugout after the eighth inning, we all thought that he would be handed his first loss of the year, even though he’d only given up two runs (both earned) on six hits, while walking one and striking out five.
Maddon put Jeff Keppinger in to pinch hit for Sean Rodriguez in the top of the ninth, and Kep did something that seemed nearly impossible: he hit a single to center field. After a Reid Brignac strikeout, Desmond Jennings slapped a single to right, moving Keppinger to third. All of a sudden the Rays Republic let out a collective breath as the thought of beating Verlander became a possibility. With one out and men on the corners, Carlos Pena made his way to the plate. Could Pena be the Rays hero yet again?
Prior to the Pena at bat, Verlander began to ratchet up the heat; a tactic that he’s known for. The Jennings hit came off of a 99 MPH fastball. Verlander continued this strategy with Pena at the plate, and with a full count he did the unthinkable; Verlander threw a 100 MPH wild pitch which scored Keppinger, and sent Jennings to second and Los to first. Evan Longoria was next, and he preceded to tie the game on a one out single to left field. Jim Leyland tried to stop the bleeding to no avail, by removing Verlander with one out and two on. And at that point the improbable no longer seemed so. Not only would Verlander leave the game with at least a no decision, but Tampa Bay might actually get a chance to beat him.
Schlereth came on in relief of Verlander, and Maddon put Elliot Johnson in to pinch hit for Matt Joyce. Schlereth promptly loaded the bases by walking Johnson, and Leyland pulled Schlereth for Jose Valverde. It was now up to Ben Zobrist to drive in the go ahead run off of the often times wild Jose Valverde. With one out and the bases loaded, Valverde tossed a meatball over the plate that would meet its destiny in right-center, by means of a single off of the bat of one Ben “Zorilla” Zobrist. Tampa Bay took a 4-2 lead that they would not relinquish in the top of the ninth.
Fernando Rodney came on in relief of James Shields in the top of the ninth, and got a 1-2-3 inning to finish the, now 4-1, Tigers off.
The Rays faced a reigning Cy Young winner for 20th time today, and are 7-7 with 6 no decisions. Under Joe Maddon, the Rays are now 4-2 vs reigning Cy Young winners, with victories against King Felix in 2011, Zack Greinke in 2010, and Johan Santana 2007, and now Verlander in 2012.
Tampa Bay will take on Le Tigre for the rubber game of the set tomorrow at, again, 1:05. Jeff “The Big Nyquil (urm, we’ll call him The Big Dayquil)” Niemann will take the hill for the Rays. How sweet would it be to saunter into Fenway as a 5-1 team to face, an as of now, 1-5 Red Sox?!