Game 26: 4-Run 2nd Propels Rays to Sweep, Best Record in Baseball

By Robbie Knopf

So often in baseball, one inning can define an entire game. A 4-run explosion in the 2nd inning turned a 2-0 deficit into a lead, and the Rays refused to let it go.

The Rays went for the sweep against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday, sending Jeff Niemann up to the mound against Mariners veteran Kevin Millwood. Neither pitcher would be exactly on their game. After both pitchers were perfect in the 1st, any remnant of perfection disappeared in the 2nd. After Niemann walked Kyle Seager to begin the inning, John Jaso followed with a double, a Mike Carp groundout scored a run, and then Justin Smoak delivered an RBI double before Niemann got an inning-ending double play. But the Rays answered in the bottom of the inning. With 2 outs and nobody on, Will Rhymes hustled out an infield single. Millwood then left a fastball up and mid-out to Jeff Keppinger, and Keppinger slammed a game-tying 2-run home run to knot the game at 2. The Rays weren’t done. Chris Gimenez and Sean Rodriguez strung together singles before Desmond Jennings laced a 2-run triple into right-center just past Ichiro to give the Rays a 4-2 lead. Ichiro would get a run back for Seattle in the 5th on an RBI double.

Niemann went 5.2 innings, allowing 3 runs on 7 hits, striking out 5 while walking 2. 66 of his 107 pitches were strikes. He wasn’t sharp, but he gave the Rays a solid effort. With a man on second and 2 outs in the 6th, Jake McGee came into the game to strike out Michael Saunders. McGee was just getting started as he retired the next 6 batters in the game. McGee had his dominating fastball and his slider working and he looked unhittable. McGee went 2.1 innings, striking out 3 and getting his three non-strikeout outs on groundballs. Fernando Rodney closed out the 9th, getting a flyout and a double play after a Sean Rodriguez error to begin the inning as the Rays won the game 3-1. Niemann (2-3) earned the win in the game while Millwood (0-3) took the loss, allowing 4 runs in 6.1 innings. It was a satisfying win for the Rays as they got a burst of offense and McGee looked everything like the pitcher we thought that we had entering 2011. McGee has closer stuff from the left side and if he can pitch anything like that, the Rays bullpen, a concern entering the season especially with Kyle Farnsworth down, could be one of the best in baseball. The win improves gives the Rays a sweep of Seattle Mariners and improves their record to 18-8, 1.5 games up in the AL East and half a game up for the best record in all of baseball with the Rangers and Dodgers off today. Even with Evan Longoria out, the Rays are surging, and they have the ability to keep this going.