Ah, the feeling of frustration.
The game started with Brian Bannister frustrating the Rays hitters for the first seven innings allowing just two hits - both by Evan Longoria including a home run. Randy Choate's error and Rafael Soriano's non-strikeout of Billy Butler in the ninth inning added more fustration late. Evan Longoria's near walk-off home run in the bottom half of the inning just capped off off the night of frustration.
Jeff Niemann strayed away from the Big Nyquil moniker and was more like the Big Red Bull on this night. He worked a much faster pace and put six innings behind him in about an hours' time. Then the seventh inning came and the wheels fell off a bit. Niemann allowed leadoff walk, a single and a double as the Royals would tie the game at 1-1.
With one out and runners on second and third in the seventh, Joe Maddon called for the intentional walk of switch-hitting Alberto Callaspo, who was batting left-handed against Niemann. This set up Niemann with a much more favorable match up, facing righty Jason Kendall with an out ready at each base. Callaspo came into the game with a .906 OPS vs. righties so far while Kendall has an ugly .588 vs. RHP in 2010.
The move worked as Evan Longoria fielded a ground ball cleanly, stepped on third base, and fired a strike across the diamond to Carlos Pena. It was one of many good defensive plays by the Rays on the evening.
Speaking of Pena, he robbed David DeJesus of extra bases with a snag at first base in the first inning and then put his life in jeopardy as he flipped over the dugout fence to catch a DeJesus' foul pop-up in the fourth. Luckily, Wade Davis and Reid Brignac were there to catch him. Carl Crawford added a diving grab in left field and the team turned three double-plays on the evening.
Back to Niemann who had a very Niemann like effort on the evening. He ended up tossing 7.1 innings allowing just one run on three hits, but allowed four walks. He had just three strikeouts and three swinging strikes. Meanwhile, he was able to match Bannister with 13 ground ball outs.
It wasn't his sharpest effort, and he left with a runner on second base and one out in the eight inning. Randy Choate did his job by getting two lefties on a groundball and a strikeout to end the inning. He started the ninth inning with another groundball back to the mound, but could not field it cleanly putting the leadoff hitter on; the beginning of the end.
Rafael Soriano would come into the game next as Maddon attempted to hold the game at 1-1. On the 1-2 pitch, Soriano got Billy Butler to swing and miss on a slider in the dirt - or at least that's how I saw it. John Jaso reacted like it was a foul tip and Butler stood at the plate until the umpire ruled it a foul tip. Butler would rip the next pitch to right field for a single that moved Scott Podsednik to third base. After a hit-by-pitch of Jose Guillen to load the bases, Callaspo hit a sac-fly to put the Royals up 2-1. They would tack on an additional run to make it a two-run game.
That tack on run would prove to be important because the Rays would get a run in the bottom of the ninth on a towering sac-fly by Evan Longoria that was a few feet away from a walk-off home run.
Tonight was a game of inches and the Rays came up just short. Brush it off your shoulders and on to the next one.