Please do not blame this loss on Grant Balfour. Of course he's not totally without blame, but this one rests on the shoulders of Joe Maddon.
Maddon has developed a habit this season of sending his starter back out to begin an inning when he was visibly struggling through the previous inning. The tired starter normally ends up allowing the leadoff batter to reach base somehow, and is then replaced by a middle reliever. Why doesn't Maddon just have the middle reliever start the inning? I really wish I could tell you. He's seemingly done it more and more as the season has progressed, and it's getting to be almost comical.
I was talking to Tommy during the game and when the 7th inning ended he predicted Maddon would send Niemann out to start the 8th despite the signs of fatigue that Niemann displayed in the 7th. Of course, Maddon did, and Tommy said, and I quote, "Niemann will walk or give up a hit to the leadoffman. Then Balfour will come in and get an out, give up a hit, then Choate or Wheeler will come in." That was close. Niemann gave up a leadoff double and Grant Balfour was summoned from the pen. Balfour recorded two outs and with Curtis Granderson due up next was not taken out of the game for some reason. Thre Rays have not one, not two, but THREE left handed relievers in their bullpen. If you hadn't noticed, Curtis Granderson is also left handed. Here are Granderson's career numbers against RHP and LHP:
vs RHP: .295/.370/.530/.900
vs LHP: .211/.274/.355/.629
As you can see, the man is incapable of hitting lefties. It would seem like an ideal situation to use Choate, Shouse, or Howell. Instead, Jim Hickey went to the mound and when he left it was pretty clear what he had told Balfour; pitch around Granderson. And Balfour did, Granderson ended up on first base which brought the go ahead run to the plate. We know how that ended up. Yes, Balfour gave up the game winning (or losing if you're a Rays fan) home run, but he shouldn't have been in there to throw that pitch in the first place. I rarely blame a loss on a manager, but this game was in Maddon's hands, and he dropped it. If the Rays miss the playoffs I know some people are going to blame it on the trade of Scott Kazmir. When in fact it's games such as these they are going to keep the Rays home in October.
-It was nice to see Aki hit his first home run in nearly a year.
-Also, it was nice to see Evan Longoria hit his first home run in nearly 20 games.