Someone forgot to tell RHP Jeff Niemann that he, and the Rays, are in the make or break battle of the season. Last nights game looked ugly right out of the gate, and the Big Nyquil looked terrible on the mound within the first two pitches of the game. After an inning of work that included a two walks, a double, and a Jose Bautista blast to deep left, scoring Eric Thames, it was evident that Niemann didn’t have his stuff early. It was also obvious that something had to be done. Rays manager, Joe Maddon, had to make a tough decision: either leave Niemann in and count the losses, or put in rookie LHP Alex Torres in hopes that maybe he could get a few decent innings under his belt. As the horrendous first inning came to an end, Joe chose to put in Torres who has a very limited repertoire of big league experience under his belt. Little could he, or anyone for that matter, guess that Torres would throw five solid innings and give up no runs.
With a 2-0 deficit early, the Rays stepped up to the plate knowing that they didn’t have the luxury of taking things slowly. No, they had to start generating some runs right off the bat, no pun intended. As the baseball gods spun Yackety Sax, the Blue Jays made some really big mistakes that would affect the game in favor of Tampa Bay. The Rays are very good at taking advantage of defensive mistakes, and take advantage of the Jays mistakes they did.
To start things off, BJ Upton caught a break when the Jays first baseman, David Cooper, dropped a foul ball giving Upton another chance at the plate. Upton took advantage of the gift and followed it up with a single down the right field line. He quickly stole second. After Longo struck out, Ben Zobrist scored Upton on a single and a throwing error which found him on second. Things again got interesting when Johnny Damon hit a bloop double to center. It almost seemed as though that the Jays outfielders got in a heated battle of paper, scissors, rock to determine who should make the easy play. However, none of them could figure it out as the ball dropped into play, scoring Zobrist and sending Damon to second. The Rays were able to walk into the second inning tied up, as Torres made his way to the mound for a very important (for all intents and purposes) start.
Set with the task of keeping the game close for a little while, who’d have guessed that Torres would pitch as well as he did? Don’t get me wrong, Alex is a pretty damn good pitcher. Torres went 9-7 with 3.08 ERA pitcher in AAA Durham, so he undoubtedly has stuff. However, Torres threw 90 pitches in six innings of work, giving up three runs (two earned) on seven hits, including four walks in his last three appearances.
Torres, by and far, exceeded any and all expectations. The rookie went five solid innings, and gave up no runs on three hits and a walk, all the while inducing five strikeouts. Leaning primarily on in his fastball, a devastating changeup that baffled the Jays hitters, and somewhat on his slider, Torres was very effective pitching in the zone. In short, Torres was able to stave off a heavy hitting Jays team while keeping the Rays in the game.
Brandon Gomes came into the game in the seventh, and was followed by Joel Peralta in the eighth, and Kyle Farnsworth in the ninth. The trifecta effectively shut down the Jays for the rest of the game, collectively giving up one hit, no walks, and coaxing five strikeouts. Farnsworth, who hasn’t pitched since September 10, came into the game in a non save situation. However, he had a decent sized four run cushion in the ninth taking some of the pressure off of him. In short, Farnsworth had a low-ish pressure opportunity to knock off some of the rust that may have accrued over the course of the last two weeks. The Rays ‘pen was able to set a record, posting eight innings of no run baseball.
Tampa Bay was fairly quiet at the plate all night. After the two run god send of a first inning, the Rays were quiet until the fourth when Zobrist hit a no out, one run blast to left to give the Rays a 3-2 lead. The Rays were again quiet until they put the final nail in the coffin in the eighth, when Damon hit a three run homer to right, scoring Upton and Longoria.
With the Yankees 9-1 shellacking of the Red Sox and Tampa Bays 6-2 victory at the hands of the Jays, the Rays find themselves just 1.5 games out in the wildcard race. If the stars are aligned, the Rays could end the day tied up with the Red Sox going into this weeks final regular season series against the hated Yankees. It is imperative that the Rays take the final game of this series against Jeff Cecil and the Blue Jays. The Red Sox would have to lose two in a row against the Yanks today in their double-header. Sure, that is a tough task. But, the Red Sox are throwing Lackey and Wakefield on the mound. Those two jokers have two of the worst ERAs (10+ and 6+ respectively) in the month of September in all of baseball. So it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Red Sox could completely flub it up.
Wade Davis will take the mound today. Davis, coming off of a very disappointing start against the Yankees, was quoted as feeling “very confident” going into today’s very crucial game. Let’s hope how he feels translates into a much better start than the last. Lord knows we need Davis to be on his game. Joe Maddon said it best, “Every day is the biggest game of the year,” today’s game included.
Alright kiddies, we’ve only one more day to grin and bear the Yankees as allies. So go Yankees, put the Sox in their grave! The starting lineup’s are below. As always, Go Rays!
Tampa Bay Rays (87-71)
Toronto Blue Jays (80-78)