The Rays bullpen had been on a great run of success for most of the month of June and the early parts of July...then the last two games before the All-Star break happened. The bullpen allowed eight runs in those two games, blowing leads in both to the normally punchless Oakland A's.
If the team is going to succeed in the second half of the season obviously the bullpen is going to need to be better than that. With James Shields doing his best Tim Redding impression last night, they would get their chance.
Randy Choate would relieve Shields in the 6th inning, facing lefty David DeJesus. Choate wouldn't get the job done as DeJesus singled in a run, making it seven earned runs on the night for Shields. However, the next four relievers would only allow two runners to reach base. This allowed the Rays offense a chance to get back in the game, and we all know how that turned out.
Chad Bradford relieved Randy Choate and recorded the final two outs of the 6th inning. Joe Nelson was brought in for the 7th inning and would give up a walk and a single, but got out of it with no damage done. Dan 'Big City' Wheeler pitched the 8th inning. Wheeler, who has been pitching effectively with a heavy dose of sliders, strayed from that path and threw only 4 of them in his 17 pitches that inning. After Yuni Betancourt nearly took his fastball deep to the opposite field I figured he'd put that pitch away for awhile. But after retiring Betancourt and DeJesus on 6 pitches it took 11 to get Bloomquist, only two of which were sliders. Bloomquist fouled off 5 high fastballs in a row, so it would have seemed like mixing in a slider, seeing as how it's his best pitch, would have worked. Bloomquist grounded out on the 6th fastball in a row to end the inning, so what do I know. J.P Howell came in to work the 9th and made short work of the Royals, retiring the side in order on 10 pitches(9 strikes) to save the one run victory. Game Chilled.
The Rays needed this victory badly. You do not want to start off an important 10 game road trip with a loss to the Royals, especially not when you face Zach Greinke the following night. The bullpen did what they're supposed to do and locked down the game, giving the potent offense time to fight their way back into the game. If the Rays are going to climb the standings and get into the playoffs we're going to need to see more of that from here on.