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Rays Highlights: Pitching Performances of the Past Decade (Part 1)

From 2005-2014, Rays fans have had the pleasure of watching some of the finest pitchers in all of baseball

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The Rays have sometimes been a great offensive team, but as of late they've been a tremendous pitching team. They've even had a pitcher win the highest award given to them when David Price won the Cy Young in 2012. In 2005, we got to witness the rise of young 22 year old Scott Kazmir. In 2006, James Shields was an unheralded prospect that came up and showed a lot of promise and in 2007, he and Kazmir formed a dominant 1-2 punch. Also in 2007, seeds for a powerful rotation were planted when Andy Sonnanstine was called up mid-season and proved he could stick in the back-end of the rotation, as did Edwin Jackson.

At the end of the 2007 season, the Rays dealt their former #1 draft pick to the Minnesota Twins for a prized arm in Matt Garza and a solid everyday short stop in Jason Bartlett. In 2008, the Rays finally managed to do put together a perfect balance of offense and defense, combined with their splendid starting rotation and win the American League pennant.

The years that followed, Rays fans have had the opportunity to see a new top pitching prospect rise through the ranks and eventually make his highly anticipated debut. In 2009, there was David Price pitching in his first full season after a dramatic postseason as well as Jeff Niemann finally making it after dealing with injuries during his minor league career.

Wade Davis had his first full season in 2010 and had a solid rookie season. David Price had (at the time) the greatest pitching season in Rays history, winning a team best 19 games. In 2011, Jeremy Hellickson had excellent campaign and was awarded the AL's Rookie of the Year award. James Shields, who had a putrid 2010, showed he was still an ace with a very impressive 2011, even garnering support for the Cy Young, finishing 3rd.

In 2012, fans witnessed the debuts of Matt Moore and Chris Archer, and in 2013 there was Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome, and Enny Romero coming from Durham to deliver much needed starts and Alex Cobb delivering a solid season until a linedrive came back and hit him in the skull. Cobb was able to return though and pitch the Rays to a must needed victory during the 1st ever AL Wild Card game against Cleveland.

Although there have many great pitching performances for the Rays in team history, I'm only going to select the top performance as determined by GameScore dating back to 2005, starting with Seth McClung's performance against the Cleveland Indians on September 28th, 2005.

Seth McClung versus Cliff Lee

Seth McClung was the on the mound for Tampa, he has been a Rays top-ten prospect since 2002 and was even named a MLB top-100 prospect in 2003 by Baseball America. He made his return in 2005 after undergoing Tommy John Surgery in 2003, and this would be his last start of the season, in which he struggled for the greater part of.

Pitcher: Seth McClung

Opponent: Cleveland Indians

Date: September 28th, 2005

Where: Jacobs Field

GameScore: 78

Heading into play, the Indians were fighting for a spot in the postseason, they were 2 games back of the AL Central leading Chicago White Sox and tied for the Wild Card with the Boston Red Sox, so every game was crucial.

Thankfully for them, they had a Cy Young candidate in Cliff Lee going to the mound against the surging Devil Rays who have been above .500 since the All-Star break trying to surpass the franchise record of 70 wins set the previous year.

Seth McClung 2005

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For the first two innings, neither team would have a player reach base. The Devil Rays broke through against Lee in the top of the 3rd with back-to-back singles by Alex Gonzalez and Toby Hall to lead off the inning, but Lee was able to squash the threat by retiring the next three batters. McClung meanwhile set down the Tribe in order in the 3rd and didn't give up his first hit until an inning later when with two outs, Jhonny Peralta flared a ball into right-center for the Indians first hit.

Both pitchers continued to put zeros up, and in the bottom of the 6th, McClung was aided by a fine diving catch by Jonny Gomes in left field off the bat of Casey Blake. The next inning, McClung gave up a double to Victor Martinez (Indians third hit) with two outs, but was able to strike out Ronnie Belliard to end the threat.

In the top of the 8th, the D-Rays would finally mount another threat against Lee after Toby Hall led off with a double. Joey Gathright came in and pinch-ran for Hall and advanced to 3rd thanks to a sac-bunt by Damon Hollins. Julio Lugo came up with the chance to give Tampa Bay the lead. With a 1-1 pitch, Lugo was able drive Lee's pitch deep enough to right field that Gathright was able to score easily from right, to make it 1-0, Tampa Bay.

Cliff Lee was able to get Nick Green to popout to end the inning. In the Indians' bottom half of the 8th, it started similarly to Tampa Bay's. Ben Broussard led off with a double down the left field line, but the Indians were unable to make anything of it, as Aaron Boone and Blake both grounded out to 3rd, and Grady Sizemore ended the inning with a soft lineout to 3rd as well.

McClung's night was done after that and after a scoreless top of the 9th, Danys Baez came out to close the game for Tampa. He allowed a single to Coco Crisp, but coaxed a double play ball from Peralta and got Travis Hafner to groundout to end the game for his 41st save and gave McClung and the D-Rays a 1-0 victory.

Final Line: 8 IP / 4 Hits / 0 R / 0 ER / 4 K / 0 BB with 112 pitches (76 strikes/36 balls)

Score: Devil Rays win 1-0 over the Indians

Video: McClung tosses a gemLee's strong effort

Kazmir dominates the Red Sox

Next up is Scott Kazmir's first career complete game shutout, it came during the midst of an allstar sophomore season being put on by the young southpaw. He went up against Josh Beckett who was having a decent first season with the Red Sox

Pitcher: Scott Kazmir

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Date: July 3rd, 2006

Where: Tropicana Field

GameScore: 91

Kazmir set down the side in the 1st on 10 pitches and the D-Rays threatened in the bottom half after Carl Crawford singled and stole 2nd, but he would be stranded there. Kazmir had a quiet 2nd, except for hitting Mike Lowell with 2 outs in the inning and Tampa went down in their half in order, thanks to a great catch by Gabe Kapler to rob Jorge Cantu of extra bases.

Sloppy defense from Tampa put the Sox in position to strike against Kazmir in the 3rd. Alex S. Gonzalez singled into left after battling Kaz for several pitches. Boston's leadoff hitter, Kevin Youkilis was now up and hit a tailor made double play ball, but Julio Lugo booted it and Youkilis reached safely. Mark Loretta popout on the 1st pitch he seen, but then Kazmir walked David Ortiz to bring up the dangerous Manny Ramirez. Kazmir went right at the powerful slugger and quickly got him down 0-2. After a foul ball, Kazmir threw a slider that dug inside at Ramirez, who swung and missed to end the inning and the threat.

Scott Kazmir 2007

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Ty Wigginton led off the bottom of the 3rd for Tampa, and on a 1-2 pitch, he hit a towering flyball deep into the left field seats for a Solo-HR to give the D-Rays a 1-0 lead. Josh Paul then singled but was retired a double play ball from Lugo. Carl Crawford ended the inning with a ground out.

Kazmir set down the side in the 4th, and the Devil Rays threatened again in the 4th. After Rocco Baldelli grounded out to start the inning, Aubrey Huff doubled down the left field line and moved to 3rd on a wild pitch. Jorge Cantu then walked to put runners on the corners with one out and brought Jonny Gomes to the plate, who immediately grounded into a double play to end the inning.

Kazmir had another quiet inning in the 5th, outside of another Julio Lugo error. In the bottom half Russel Branyan led off against Beckett and hit a moonshot to the opposite field and landed in the left seats, Wigginton followed that with a laser HR that hit off the Rays tank in center giving the D-Rays a 3-0 lead.

Kazmir retired 8 straight batters until he walked Youkilis with one out in the 8th, but was again able to get out of it. After a scoreless bottom half, Joe Maddon sent Kazmir back out having already thrown 106 pitches, but only allowing that one hit to Gonzalez back in the 3rd. Ramirez led off the inning for Boston and scorched a ball over Baldelli's head in center for a lead off double. Maddon stuck with Kazmir though, and was rewarded with a strike out of Jason Varitek, and two more quick outs to end the game and give Kazmir his 1st complete game shutout and his 10th win of the season.

Final Line: 9 IP / 2 Hits / 0 R / 0 ER / 2 BB / 10 K / 1 HBP on 120 pitches (84 strikes/36 balls)

Score: Devil Rays win 3-0 over the Red Sox

Video: Kazmir fans 10 Beckett strikes out 6

Struggling Jackson Stuns Rangers

The Devil Rays acquired Jackson the season prior to 2007 and although he had seen some action in 2006, 2007 was his first full season as a starter...and it was going horribly. In fact, after the All-Star break the team was thinking of converting him into a reliever or sending him back down to Durham to improve his game. The team stuck with Jackson though, and it payed off.

Pitcher: Edwin Jackson

Opponent: Texas Rangers

Date: August 11th, 2007

Where: Ballpark in Arlington

GameScore: 86

Edwin Jackson's opponent on the rubber was John Rheinecker, who the Devil Rays quickly got something started against. With 1 out, Carl Crawford singled on a line drive to right but was followed by a B.J. Upton strike out. Rookie of the Year candidate, Delmon Young was now up and with the first pitch,Young drilled a line drive into the right center field gap. Nelson Cruz slid to stop the ball and got it in quickly, meanwhile Tom Foley waived Crawford in and he beat the throw easily giving Tampa Bay an early 1-0 lead.

Jackson put the Rangers down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 1st, including a strike out of Brad Wilkerson. The D-Rays struck again in the top of the 2nd, when Josh Wilson singled and Greg Norton followed that by lining a ball over Ramon Vazquez at third and into the left field corner. Wilson scored easily and Norton coasted into second with a double and it was now 2-0 Tampa.

Jackson again set down Texas in order, and Rheinecker had his first 1-2-3 inning in the 3rd, which Jackson then matched in his half of the inning. After the D-Rays went down in order in the 4th, Jackson retired Ian Kinsler with a ground ball but then Wilkerson laced a groundball down the left field line for a double, the Rangers first hit. Michael Young then hit a weak ground ball to short and Jason Botts struck out to end the inning and the threat.

Edwin Jackson 2007

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In the top of the 5th, the Devil Rays again went down in order, thanks to a diving catch by Cruz that robbed Josh Paul of a hit. Jackson retired the side in the bottom half, including two strike outs. The Devil Rays scored their 3rd run in the top of the 6th after a 2 out double by Young that brought Brendan Harris to the plate. With a 1-0 pitch, Harris lined a ball into right field that Cruz fielding on a hop and rocketed a throw to the plate, that Young just narrowly beat to score.

Jackson was easily having his best start of the year and put another goose egg on the board in the 6th, despite a double from David Murphy. Jamey Wright replaced the Rangers starter and set down Tampa in the 7th. Michael Young led off the bottom half with a single but was quickly erased on a double play, Jackson then retired Cruz on a bunt groundball.

Carl Crawford led off the 8th with a triple, but the Devil Rays failed to get him in and he'd be stranded, as would Gerlad Laird who led off the bottom half with a single, but was left there after Jackson retired the next 3 batters. Carlos Pena would single with 2 outs in the top of the 9th, but be stranded and Jackson came on in the 9th, still reaching speeds close to 100 mph. He struck out Kinsler after an eight pitch battle, walked Wilkerson, then ended the game with a double play ball to record his 3rd win of the season and 1st career complete game shutout.

Final Line: 9 IP / 4 hits / 0 R / 0 ER / 1 BB / 8 K on 110 pitches (73 strikes/37 balls)

Score: Devil Rays wins 3-0 over Rangers

Video: Jackson strikes out 8Rheinecker strikes out 6

Shields + Rookie Combine to Defeat Angels

James Shields established himself as the ace of the Rays staff in early 2008 after Kazmir was sidelined for the first month of the season. During that time, the Rays had somehow managed to stay relevant instead of falling into their usual obscurity. Now they're facing off against one of best teams in the American League and sending their ace James Shields to the mound.

Pitcher: James Shields

Opponent: Los Angeles Angels

Date: May 9th, 2008

Where: Tropicana Field

GameScore: 92

James Shields would be opposed on the mound by Jon Garland, who was having a decent start to the season for the Angels. Shields set down the Angels in order in the first two innings, including the first batter of the game who retired on a fine diving catch by B.J. Upton, and the Rays only had Upton draw a walk in the 1st as the lone baserunner in the game.

Mike Napoli led off the top of the 3rd, and on a 1-0 pitch he hit a rope toward the left-center gap. Crawford was running up and went all out and made a majestic catch for the 1st out of the inning. The Angels then got their first baserunner of the game when Brandon Wood hit a ground ball up the middle for a single. He advanced to second on a ground ball from Sean Rodriguez but be stranded there after a pop-fly from Gary Matthews Jr.

Both pitcher were throwing great games, and continuing to put up goose eggs in the later stages of the game. No runner had been past first base, that is until Gabe Gross led off the bottom of the 8th inning with a double into the left-center field gap. Joe Maddon selected Nathan Haynes to pinch-run for Gross with Jason Bartlett coming up.

On the first pitch, Bartlett hit a soft grounder towards the left side and was thrown out, but Haynes was able to advance to third with only one out. Unfortunately, Akinori Iwamura and Crawford both failed to get the run home and the game remained scoreless heading into the 9th and Jon Garland's night was done after 8.0 shutout innings.

In the top of the 9th, James Shields came on just trying to keep the game scoreless so the Rays would have a chance to win it, in the bottom half. He got Brandon Wood to ground out harmlessly to 3rd, then struck out S. Rodriguez. Gary Matthews Jr then drilled a ball sharply to third, where Evan Longoria made a great backhand on threw out Matthews at first to retire the side.

In the bottom of the 9th, B.J. Upton greeted the new Angels' pitcher, Justin Speier, with a single through the right side of the infield. Carlos Pena then grounded out to first, but Upton was able to make it into 2nd safely to bring up rookie third baseman, Evan Longoria. On a 1-1 pitch, Longoria hit a towering drive deep into left field, it cleared the fence and landed a couple of rows deep and gave James Shields a much deserved victory over the Angels.

Final Line: 9 IP / 1 Hit / 0 R / 0 ER / 0 BB / 8 K / 1 HBP on 92 pitches (61 strikes/31 balls)

Score: Rays win 2-0 over the Angels

Big NyQuil Reigns Supreme over Royals

The Rays 1st round selection (4th pick) in the 2004 draft had made his debut in 2008 with a pair of starts and a few relief appearances. He earned the 5th spot in the rotation out of spring training and was off to a rocky start in 2009, but around mid-May he began to turn things around and this start solidified Niemann as a major league starter.

Pitcher: Jeff Niemann

Opponent: Kansas City Royals

Date: June 3rd, 2009

Where: Tropicana Field

GameScore: 91

Jeff Niemann was to go to the rubber against Brian Bannister, who had been pitching well but was lit up in he previous start and was hoping to rebound at the Trop. In the top of the 1st, Niemann set the Royals down quickly with 3 straight groundball outs.

B.J. Upton led off the bottom half for Tampa and sent Bannister's first pitch to the track in left field, but David DeJesus tracked it down for the 1st out. Carl Crawford then walked and stole 2nd with WIlly Aybar at the plate. Aybar would hit a soft flare towards the right side that Alberto Callaspo was able to get to for the 2nd out to bring up Carlos Pena.

With the first pitch, Pena hit a long drive into center field, Mitch Maier was tracking it down and at the last second, the ball hit off the palm of his mitt and back towards the infield. Pena coaxed into 2nd and Crawford scored easily to give the Rays an early 1-0 lead.

After a wild pitch advanced Pena to 3rd, Ben Zobrist walked and Matt Joyce struck out to end the inning for Tampa Bay. Niemann dominated the 4-5-6 batters in KC's lineup in the 2nd. He made Mike Jacobs knee buckle with a beautiful bender and got a couple of ugly swings from Jose Guillen and Mark Teahen to strikeout the side.

Gabe Gross led off the bottom half of the 2nd with a groundball up the middle for a single. Dioner Navarro looped a ball to left for an easy out, Reid Brignac grounded a ball through the right side for a single to advance Gross to 3rd and bring Upton back up.

With a 2-2 pitch, Upton ripped a ball down the left field line, Gross scored easily, as did Brignac who beat the throw in plenty of time, and Upton was able to slide into third thanks to the throw.

After a Carl Crawford groundout, Bannister on a 1-0 pitch threw a ball too far inside and Miguel Olivo couldn't get to and took a wicked bounce. Upton would scamper home and score easily, making it a 4-0 lead for Tampa Bay. Willy Aybar would single, but the inning ended when Carlos Pena grounded out.

In the 3rd, Niemann recorded his 4th straight strikeout when he got DeJesus to swing through a breaking ball. Then he got two quick groundball outs to end the inning. In the bottom of the 3rd, Bannister got Zobrist to lineout to center, but he fell victim to an error when Matt Joyce chopped a ball to Billy Butler, who flipped the ball to Bannister but caused him to miss the bag and Joyce was called safe due to an E3.

Matt Joyce then proceeded to steal his 1st career base, the next pitch, Gross poked a ball through the left side. Joyce put on the brakes as was rounding 3rd and the throw home was cutoff and the Royals had caught Gross in a rundown between first and second. At which point Joyce attempted to score, then he was thrown out at home and Gross advanced. The inning would end on a bunt groundout from Navarro.

Niemann had another quick half inning, retiring the Royals in order, including a strikeout of Callaspo. In the bottom of the 4th, following a Brignac strikeout, Upton and Crawford had back-to-back singles, then immediately pulled a successful double steal to put runners on second and third with one out.

Aybar walked to load the bases for Carlos Pena, who hit a sharp groundball right to Butler. As Butler was gearing up to throw home, he had to double pump due to Bannister getting in the way. Upton would be out on the force, but Pena was able to make it to 1st, now the bases were loaded with 2 outs for Ben Zobrist. With a 2-2 pitch, Zobrist lifted a flyball deep to left field, DeJesus ran it to the track but the ball sailed over the wall for a grandslam and broke the game open, 9-0 Rays.

Brian Bannister's night was now open as he couldn't make it past the 4th inning and Ron Mahay came on in relief. He would retired Matt Joyce with his 1st pitch on a ground ball to 3rd.

Niemann retired the first two batters in the 5th, when the Royals finally were able to manage a hit off the tall right-hander. Mark Teahen was able to take a 1-1 fastball and hit it on a line back up the middle for the first Royals hit, Niemann had retired 14 straight up to that point.

Niemann then walked DeJesus on four pitches, but got out of the inning with a groundout from Olivo.

In the bottom of the 5th, after Mahay struck out Gross to start the inning, Dioner Navarro took a 2-2 pitch and drove it down the left field line and managed to keep it fair for a Solo-HR to make it 9-0, Rays. Brignac would strikeout, but a walk, single, and another walk put Mahay into a jam, but he was able to get out of it with a groundball from Carlos Pena.

Neither team would have another runner reach base until the bottom of the 8th. With one out, WIlly Aybar tapped a ball to third that Tug Hulett couldn't get a handle on and Aybar reached on an error. He would be stranded there as Jo Dillon popped out and Zobrist struck out.

In the top of the 9th, with the first pitch Tony Pena lined out to Joyce in right. After a small battle with Maier, Niemann got him to hit a soft linedrive that Zobrist caught at second. Alberto Callaspo was now up and on the first pitch he hit a sharp goundball to Dillon at third, who couldn't handle and had it skip off him. It was ruled a single, but wouldn't matter as Niemann put an exclamation point on his night with a strikeout of Butler to complete his shutout and gain his 5th win of the season.

Final Line: 9 IP / 2 Hits / 0 R / 0 ER / 1 BB / 9 K on 100 pitches (69 strikes/31 balls)

Score: Rays win 9-0 over the Royals

Video: * - Strikeout of Mike Jacobs in the 2nd was a beautiful bender

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*Stats and Videos are pulled from MLB.comThe BaseballCube, and BaseballReference