I've got to hand it to the Rays: this club refuses to die. The Rays have had a large number of come-from-behind victories over the past three seasons, but this series with the Twins has been something else. That's twice now in three games that the Rays have entered the bottom of the ninth losing, and that's twice that they've made Joe Nathan blow a save. Of their six wins so far this season, the Rays have entered the ninth inning losing in three of them.
But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. First things first: Jeff Niemann was actually pretty good Saturday afternoon. It's weird, though: from watching him today, I didn't think he'd pitched well until I checked the boxscore just a few minutes ago. Batters seemed to be hitting the ball decently hard against him, and he worked himself out of a couple different jams throughout the day. But despite my eyes and the recent concerns about him, Niemann had a typical Big Nyquil start: 7 IP, 3 runs, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts. It wasn't anything fancy, and Niemann did let up 8 hits and a long homerun, but it was definitely his best start of the season.
As for the Rays' offense, it was as maddening and inconsistent as always; I'm beginning to think they need to have their backs to the wall before their offense actually kicks into gear. The Rays couldn't score many runs until they got themselves into a 1-6 hole to start the season, and they've only scored four runs before the seventh inning during this series. This time, after wasting multiple scoring opportunities earlier in the game, the Rays scored three runs in the eighth and ninth inning to win the game. Confidence building? Not necessarily. Exciting? Oh heck yeah.
- This was the fifth straight game that Johnny Damon has had the game-winning RBI, and it was also the second game this series that he's won with a walk-off hit. I know I wasn't too exciting about Damon when he was initially signed - I figured he was aging and not exactly an impact bat - but so far he's still plenty of life left in that bat.
- Matt Joyce continues to thrive hitting in the middle of the Rays order, cracking two hits including a double (which he just barely made under the tag). His batting average is now up to .293 (and his wOBA is above .330), although I'm still waiting on that first homerun from him.
- John Jaso and Jeff Niemann make a really bad combination when it comes to baserunners. The Twins stole three bases off them today, including one by Delmon Young, even though Jaso actually made some good throws. Niemann just isn't the fastest to the plate, so I'll be curious to see if Maddon continues to match Jaso up with Niemann or if it was merely a coincidence.
- Sam Fuld continues to be Sam Fuld, driving in a run on a sacrifice fly, flashing some excellent range in the outfield, and talking a walk in the ninth inning to load the bases and bring Johnny Damon to the plate. His defensive range is particularly impressive - if he can keep it up, his defense could make him worth a regular spot even when his offense regresses.
- How could I forget? Ben Zobrist led off the ninth inning with a laserbeam of a homerun against Joe Nathan. He's been in a slump recently, dropping his season wOBA to .285, so hopefully BenZo starts hitting the ball hard again. I'm still hoping that his power numbers will rebound somewhat this season.