The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. After biking 250 miles across three and a half states (DC doesn't quite count) and surviving thunderstorms, irate security guards, flat tires, runaway dogs, and non-existent food stands, I'm finally in front of a computer again and able to blog away to my heart's content. I'm disappointed that the Rays haven't found a way to clinch the East in my absence, but coming back to a roster without Pat Burrell is a lovely surprise nonetheless.
After being baseball-less for a week, last night's game was very fun to watch. While the Rays did not play their best, it was a close game and the Rays won in extra innings - as a fan, what more can you ask for? I'd obviously love to see many of the players perform better than they did, but it at least made for an exciting game.
Jeff Niemann's outing was a mixed bag of positives and negatives; he held the Indians to only three runs through six innings, but he also gave up 10 hits and three walks while only generating three strikeouts. Letting up that many base runners in a game is a recipe for disaster, but Niemann limited the damage by inducing 12 groundball outs, including two double plays. His swinging strike percentage was a respectable 8.5%, but Niemann was playing with fire today and he got lucky. I'm not impressed with the process, but at least it wasn't a disaster.
On the flip side of things, the Rays' offense pulled off one of its patented tricks: making a below-average starter look like an ace. Fausto Carmona hasn't been a good starter since 2007 and going into last night, he was averaging 3.83 K/9 and 4.03 BB/9. He normally lives and dies by groundballs, but last night he torched the Rays, striking out seven and walking only one over the course of 6.2 innings. He only let up two runs but thankfully the Indians' bullpen gave up two more runs, allowing the Rays to win the game in the bottom of the eleventh on a bunt base hit.
Other Thoughts on the Game:
- Joaquin Benoit was as dirty as Mike Rowe last night. Five batters faced, five strikeouts. Nine fastballs thrown, four swinging strikes. Eight change-ups thrown, four swinging strikes. His fastball was sitting at 94 MPH and his change-up at 84 MPH, with almost identical movement between the two. Obviously I want J.P. Howell in our pen yesterday, but Benoit's performance with the Rays has at least given Maddon another high-leverage arm he can trust.
- Although he didn't have the best night, it was great to see Zobrist batting lead-off. With his patience, plate discipline, gap power, and even splits, he's tailor made for the lead-off spot. I hope Maddon uses this configuration more frequently in the future.
- Hank Blalock got his first hit with the Rays tonight and I saw him hustling down the line on multiple plays. It goes without saying, but he's much less funny to watch run than Pat Burrell.
- Maddon owned the 11th inning. First he puts on a hit-and-run, allowing John Jaso to cruise into third base on a Gabe Kapler single through the second base hole. And next, Maddon had Bartlett drop down a safety squeeze, leaving the Indians very little chance of catching Jaso at home. Those were a few really well managed plays and they both worked out well, so Maddon should definitely get some of the credit.
- I know some people wanted the Yankees to lose last night, but I am loving sitting 8.5 games ahead of the Red Sox right now. Remember how frustrating it was last season for the Rays to get over .500 for good? Well, how's it taste, Red Sox fans? I must say, I am taking waaaay too much pleasure in watching the Red Sox flounder right now.