Dave Cameron is right. The pressure is on the Tampa Bay Rays, not the Boston Red Sox. Ignore the collapse talk; ignore the "hot" narrative; ignore everything but the incredible odds against the Tampa Bay Rays right now. Because that will make the magic of this season only greater.
Jeff Niemann (W, 11-7) threw 89 pitches through 5.0 innings, but limited the Red Sox (87-64) to only 2 runs, giving the Rays (84-67) a narrowed 3-game deficit in the Wild Card race. Niemann walked only 2 Red Sox batters and struck out an uncharacteristic 6 hitters, including a K to Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia (whom Niemann also picked off to finish the 5th inning).
Then, eschewing the common approach, manager Joe Maddon pulled Neimann for the 6th inning and sent rookie and top pitching prospect Matt Moore into the game. Moore started his appearance by busting the radar gun, hitting 98 mph in his second and third pitches and earning praise from temporary closer Joel Peralta:
"Watching him was great," veteran reliever Joel Peralta said. "First two pitches and it's like, 'Daddy's here.'" — MLB.com
And Daddy went on to pitch 3.0 innings, striking out 2, walking 2, and allowing only 2 singles which led to an RBI ground out in the 7th. Moore then handed the ball to Peralta, who apparently doesn't care much for closer mentality talk. Peralta struck out two batters and didn't let the ball leave the infield en route to collecting his 4th save and giving the Rays a 4-3 win.
Offensively, the Rays started properly with a Fenway Special, a 300ish ft. Ben Zobrist home run to left, giving them a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. Desmond Jennings pushed the lead to 3-0 in the third, doubling, moving to third on a ground out, and then scoring on a wild ball four to Evan Longoria. Then, in the fifth, Longo added an insurance run on an RBI single to right field.
- Some may criticize Maddon of over-managing or getting "too cute" (is such a problem even possible?) in pulling Niemann after five, but I laud the move. Niemann, on his career, has allowed an .800 OPS when the order turns over for the third time (despite a .600 OPS the first two times through). For comparison, hitters have a .700ish OPS against James Shields regardless of how many times they've seen him.
Meanwhile, Moore is pretty much an unscouted pitching phenom, and the Red Sox are loaded with lefties. It was a brilliant, daring move, and Moore rewarded Maddon with three innings of stifled Sox offense.
- Former Devil Ray, Joey Gathright, got his first steal of the season, and his first MLB steal in two years. Congrats Joey; we still remember you fondly here.
- Jon Lester and Brian Knight went 7.0 innings, limiting the Rays to 9 base runners. The lefty-umpire duo combined for 4 strikeouts and 4 walks, a surprising feat considering their impressive zone construction:
- Here are the Wild Card standings as of tonight:
American League Wild Card Standings
|Tampa Bay||84||67||.556||3||Won 1|
|Los Angeles||82||69||.543||5||Lost 2|
|Kansas City||67||86||.437||21||Won 7|
(updated 9.18.2011 at 12:47 AM EDT)