So this is what it feels like to have a winning streak. It's been a while, hasn't it? (Since June 8th and 9th, if you're curious). The Rays weren't exactly impressive out there tonight - there were multiple moments where I was certain they were going to blow the game and the offense did total 21 LOB on the night - but they somehow managed to pull it off. It was an exciting game, especially at the end, and since there's so much to talk about and I won't be able to make it all transition well right now, we're going to go with bullet points:
- Did you know that Niemann threw a spike curve? I had no idea, and thought the announcers had gone mad when they went on an inning-long rant about his amazing spike curve. But lo and behold, Pitch F/x guru and general pitching master Mike Fast set me straight on twitter, pointing out instances where Niemann has thrown it in the past - one in 2009 and one in 2010. Has Niemann always thrown the spike curve, or was that a new addition last year? Who threw it first, him or David Price? Did both of them learn it from someone else, or did one of them teach the other? None of these questions matter too much in the end, but I can't help being curious.
- Speaking of Niemann, he pitched quite well last night. It was a typical Niemann performance - not mind blowing, but consistent and above-average. Six and two-thirds innings pitched, three runs allowed, five strikeouts, two walks, six hits, and 4.9% swinging strikes. Consistently decent - that's why I love you, Niemann.
- Our offense couldn't score more than one run in an inning, but they put together five separate rallies to score five runs. I don't know whether to be impressed or incredibly frustrated.
- After Niemann left, the Rays went through multiple relievers as Maddon played match-ups like a pro. Balfour came in and struck out a batter in a key situation, and then Randy Choate came in to face Joe Mauer and a few other lefties in the middle of the Twins' order. However, he let up a double to Mauer and a long fly ball to Morneau (he was getting squeezed a lot, forcing him to groove pitches more), so Benoit came in to get the last out of the inning. He got through the inning on five pitches, so why didn't Maddon cart him back out there in the ninth? The game was tied and it would make sense to use your better relievers for longer sections, but maybe he had his match-up reasons for the move or merely wanted to rest Benoit's arm some. I can't argue with the results - Cormier pitched a perfect ninth inning - but the process seemed a bit weird.
- Can we all take a moment and appreciate how amazing Carl Crawford has been so far this season? He started today after having a couple days off, and man, what a performance. Crawford had already been leading the team in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) at 3.9, good for third best in the majors, and he went 4-6 last night with two runs scored, a stolen base, a run batted in, and he made a sensational catch to end an innings and a threat. Man, it's going to be tough to watch him go...
- To help make up for all the bad umpiring karma the Rays have had recently, last night there was finally a bad call that worked in favor of the Rays. In the top of the 10th inning, with runners on first and second, Willy Aybar singled to left field. The lead runner scored, but Delmon Young threw the ball to the third baseman, , who proceeded to tag Shoppach. Somehow, though, despite having a great angle, the umpire screwed up the play, calling Shoppach safe at third. Although the Rays couldn't capitalize off of this, it was still so nice to watch a call get ruled that got screwed up in our favor for once.
- Also, for those clamoring to pinch-hit for Bartlett with Brignac in the ninth inning, don't forget about the 10% pinch-hitting penalty. By the time you regress the numbers, I believe (although I can check this) that it ends up being near a wash for them. I'll run those numbers today, though.