It’s the worst feeling in the world. You know something bad is going to happen. You wonder if you’re just a pessimist, a skeptic, but then you start seeing it all fall apart. You wait for something good to happen and then after a moment of excitement, the panic sets in again.
The Rays’ game Saturday had all the makings of a disaster. As the Rays just can never seem to win a game lately, we all had that feeling in our guts telling us that this was just going to be the peak of our embarrassment for being Rays fans. But the Rays responded. We were reminded that while this team drives us crazy, they’re also a darn good team and you never know when they’ll catch fire and make everyone say yet again “watch out for these Rays.”
Jeff Niemann was rolling. In his return from the disabled list, Niemann retired the first 6 batters he faced, 3 via the strikeout. And in the top of the 3rd, the Rays got him quite a bit of run support. Ryan Roberts homered with 1 out off of Henderson Alvarez but the Rays were far from done. Jose Lobaton followed the homer with a walk, Desmond Jennings singled, and after a B.J. Upton force play gave the Rays 1st and 3rd with 2 outs, Ben Zobrist delivered an RBI double. Then, after Evan Longoria walked, Matt Joyce lined an opposite field 2-run double to give the Rays a 4-0 lead. An Omar Vizquel single ended Niemann’s perfect game bid after he had retired 7 in a row, but Niemann got out of the bottom of the 3rd inning with a double play. Things looked good for the Rays. The offense was clicking, and Niemann was dealing.
In the 4th inning, everything changed. The Rays went down feebly in order against Alvarez. Niemann forced Rajai Davis to fly out to begin the inning, but then suddenly he had to leave the game with an arm injury of some sort. In came J.P. Howell out of the bullpen, and he walked Colby Rasmus before Edwin Encarnacion drilled a 2-run homer to make it a 4-2 game. The homer ended Howell’s scoreless streak at 27.1 innings. After getting Adam Lind to ground out, Howell allowed a single to Yorvit Torrealba before walking Kelly Johnson. Suddenly the Blue Jays had the go-ahead run at the plate as Wade Davis replaced Howell. But Davis forced Moises Sierra to ground out to end the inning.
The game stayed 4-2 until the 8th inning as Davis and Jake McGee for the Rays and Alvarez, Aaron Loup, and Brad Lincoln did the same for the Blue Jays. But in the 8th, the Rays extended their lead to 5-2 as Matt Joyce slammed a solo home run off of Lincoln. That would prove crucial in the bottom of the inning. Joel Peralta entered the game but had nothing. The Blue Jays loaded the bases with 1 out on an Adeiny Hechavarria double, a Rajai Davis single, and a walk to Edwin Encarnacion before an Adam Lind single scored 2 to pull the Jays with 5-4. In came Fernando Rodney with just 1 out in the 8th inning and he walked Yorvit Torrealba before striking out Johnson and Sierra to end the inning. He threw 16 pitches in the process but still came back out for the bottom of the 9th.
Rodney walked Omar Vizquel to begin the inning and Adeiny Hechavarria bunted him over to 2nd. Rajai Davis then flew out and the Rays were one out away from victory. But then Adam Lind lined a single to centerfield. B.J. Upton raced over, set his feet, and made a strong throw home, and Jose Molina caught the ball and tagged out Vizquel as he blocked him from touching the plate, and the Rays won 5-4 as the game-ending play at the plate went in their favor this time around. Rodney did his ritual arrow shot into the sky before hugging Molina. Wade Davis (2-0) earned the win with 2.1 shutout inning, Alvarez (7-12) took the loss, and thanks to Molina, Rodney nailed down his 40th save of the year but his first of more than one inning, lowering his ERA to 0.73 in the process. The Rays saw everything fall apart. Niemann was injured, the bullpen faltered, the offense fell silent, but they somehow found a way to win as they moved 1.5 games back of the Orioles for the second AL Wild Card. Niemann left with unbelievably nonspecific “tightness in his right (pitching) arm” and we’ll have to see what his status is moving forward. But the Rays came away with a much-needed win and look to build momentum Sunday against the Blue Jays with David Price opposing Ricky Romero.