The Rays, in their powder blue alternates picked up a 6-2 victory Sunday afternoon, taking their three game series against the Twins. Jeff Niemann pitched effectively through 5.1 innings, and the offense was able to score six runs despite only five hits.
The first base runners of the afternoon came in the 2nd inning. Niemann walked Josh Willingham to start the inning, but got a ground out, and two swinging strikeouts to end the inning. Evan Longoria also walked to begin the bottom of the 2nd, but Jeff Keppinger flied out and B.J. Upton grounded into a double play. Niemann walked another batter in the 3rd, but again no harm was done.
Carrying over their patience from last night’s game, Sean Rodriguez and Chris Gimenez walked to lead off the bottom of the 3rd. Elliot Johnson was then hit by a pitch to load the bases for Desmond Jennings, who hit a sac fly to center to score the game’s first run. The next batter, Ben Zobrist, hit another sac fly on a 3-0 count to left field to make it a 2-0 game. Through three innings, the Rays had a two run lead despite either team recording a hit.
To lead off the bottom of the 4th, Longoria hit a high fly ball to left field, which he believed hit one of the back rings at the Trop. The umps decided it did not, and Longoria found himself standing at second with a leadoff double. He reached third on a fly ball by Keppinger, and scored on a sacrifice fly by B.J. Upton. Niemann continued to cruise in the top of the 5th inning, allowing a two-out single to Clete Thomas before striking out Alexi Casilla on a foul tip.
With one out and one on in the bottom of the 5th, Desmond Jennings turned on a fastball in the middle of the plate and drove it into the stands in left to make it a 5-0 game.
Jeff Niemann gave up back to back singles to start the top of the 6th inning, so pitching coach Jim Hickey came out to calm him down and make sure he was alright. Niemann was able to get Joe Mauer to pop up on the first pitch, but hit Josh Willingham to load the bases. Despite a low pitch count (80), Niemann was taken out by Joe Maddon in place of Jake McGee for the lefty on left matchup. McGee struck out Morneau, but was quickly taken out for Wade Davis as righty pinch hitter Ryan Doumit came into the game. With two outs and the bases loaded, Doumit singled to center on a line drive, plating two runs to make it a 5-2 game; Niemann was charged with the two earned runs.
Anthony Swarzak came in to replace Liriano in the 6th inning, and put down the Rays despite an infield single by Sean Rodriguez. Both Wade Davis and Swarzak got 1-2-3 innings in the 7th, keeping it a 5-2 game. Joel Peralta has settled in nicely to the 8th inning role, and handled the heart of the Twins’ order well after a leadoff single to Jamey Carroll.
Glen Perkins walked Carlos Pena to lead off the bottom of the 8th, and Pena reached third after a passed ball and Longoria single. Upton then hit his second sac fly of the game to add some insurance and make it a 6-2 game. Fernando Rodney relieved Peralta in the 9th to shut the door on the Twins and to give the Rays their second straight victory.
The Rays did what they needed to do to win this afternoon. They had only five hits, but walked five times. They were 1-5 with runners in scoring position, but four of their runs came on sac flies. Jennings had 3 RBI on the day, including his two-run slam in the 5th. Niemann got his first victory of the season, going at least 5 innings for the third time. He gave up three hits, two earned runs (both inherited), two walks, and struck out five. The 6’9” righty has proven to be a very serviceable 5th starter for the Rays. Tampa’s bullpen also pitched well (3.1 scoreless innings), giving them some confidence after Friday night’s loss. The Rays have a much needed day off on Monday before the Angels come to town on Tuesday night.