Tonight was a game of mixed emotions for Rays fans. Early on, Jeff Niemann was cruising through the Jays lineup with everyone not named Fred Lewis while the Rays offense made Brian Tallet look like Steve Carlton. The fifth inning changed all that as John Buck not only homered on a curveball that buckled his front leg but that came after a very questionable check swing call that would have been strike three call. The Jays would go onto put two more runs on the board that inning and add another run in the sixth inning to go up 5-0 and lead me to say on Twitter that, “This game might as well be 44-0 the way the Rays offense is playing of late.” To add to the frustration, Joe Maddon willingly gave up the DH in the 6th inning to try to take advantage of a match-up with runners in scoring position that did not materialize. Niemann did what he usually does and worked through six innings but the home run bug that he has been able to avoid in the past bit him twice tonight and he left a few balls up after that as well that the Jays pounced on. This was Niemann’s worst effort of the season, statistically, but shockingly he was not settled with his first loss of the season.
The Rays went into the 7th inning down 5-0 and getting into what had been a rather reliable Jays bullpen. The Rays rallied to score three runs in the 7th inning as Casey Janssen and Jason Frasor were quite ineffective before former Ray Shawn Camp as well as Scott Downs came in to fix the mess. The Rays bullpen did what they’ve done most of the season and held the Jays scoreless to keep the Rays into the game to set up yet another interesting late inning at the Rogers Centre. Kevin Gregg came in for what was to be his 100th career save and instead turned into the biggest display of charity since the Haiti Relief Concerts. Gregg walked five Rays batters and gave up a bases-clearing double to Sean Rodriguez before leaving the game and getting ejected by Angel Hernandez on the way out. Gregg could have had an earlier exit had Hernandez not bailed him out earlier in that inning by ignoring Pena’s request for time out with two strikes causing Pena to strike out with men on first and third and just one out. Pena was upset, but not as upset as Maddon who came out and gave both Hernandez and Country Schmo Joe West an earful to get ejected. When that inning began, the Rays had a 2% chance of winning the game, and then Kevin Gregg happened. To visualize his failure, I give you this image:
Rafael Soriano came in for the 9th inning and started off by getting Fred Lewis to ground out to shortstop but a wild throw made the game interesting. That error nearly came back to haunt the Rays as Vernon Wells lined a Soriano fastball high off the left field fence to plate Lewis but Wells was left stranded as the Rays won the game 7-6. The Rogers Centre has seen some crazy games between these two teams since 2008. That season, Dioner Navarro hit a grand slam in the 13th inning to lead the Rays to a 8-3 win. Later that season, Troy Percival gave up a walk off grand-slam in the12 th to Gregg Zaun as the Jays won 7-3. Last season, Matt Garza and Roy Halladay hooked up for what may have been the best pitching match-up of the season as both pitchers went nine innings and the following day, the Rays came back to win a game in which they were losing 9-1 after six innings.
Despite the victory, the Rays were just 3 of 15 with runners in scoring position and the team is not going to plate seven runs in a game very often hitting .200 with runners in scoring position like that. Tonight’s lineup was rather interesting with B.J. Upton getting back into the lead-off spot and Ben Zobrist moving down to the sixth spot to give the bottom turn of the line-up some help. Every starter in the lineup ended up with a hit tonight except for Gabe Kapler (no surprise there) and shockingly, Evan Longoria. The team also struck out ten times tonight with Upton, Pena, and Brignac accounting for eight of those ten strikeouts. Here are Joe Maddon’s thoughts on the game; he was being quite political.
The series finale should be interesting as Shaun Marcum faces David Price. Marcum has been outstanding this season for the Blue Jays while David Price has struggled through his last two starts against the Astros and the White Sox. Look for the Rays to make a roster move tomorrow as the reports from Toronto were not good regarding Jason Bartlett’s workout today. I would expect either Dan Johnson or Matt Joyce to come up and give the offense a little more thump. The Durham Bulls are playing in Scranton, PA right now so it should not take too long for any player to join the team in Toronto as long as they were carrying their passport with them on the road trip. Both Joyce and Johnson were in the lineup tonight for Durham and both were playing in the field as Kelly Shoppach was DHing tonight. Maybe the Rays decide to add another right-handed bat and go with Justin Ruggiano who was 2-4 tonight with four steals.