Yankee Stadium saw a bit of a surprise yesterday, as the Yanks' and Rays' fifth starters squared off for what was an impressive pitching duel. Jeff Niemann and David Phelps both had strong outings for their respective clubs, leaving the game up for grabs late. The Rays' offense—again without Jennings or Longo in the lineup—struggled mightily until the ninth inning. Tampa left 25 men on base in this game, seven of them in scoring position.
The Yankees jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first with an RBI double from Robinson Cano, after the Rays stranded the bases loaded to start the game.
Phelps was taken out after 4.2 innings of scoreless work, and New York's bullpen was able to keep the Rays from scoring until the ninth.
Jeff Niemann, one the other side of things, was terrific. He pitched seven great innings against a very tough Yankee lineup, allowing just one run and one walk while striking out five.
In the ninth inning, David Robertson—the Yankees' replacement from Mariano Rivera in the closer role—entered the game. S-Rod lead of the inning with a single on the first pitch of the at-bat, and Brandon Allen (pinch hitting) followed on the first pitch of his. Ben Zobrist would then walk to load the bases with nobody out. That brought up Carlos Pena, who failed to protect the zone with two strikes and struck out looking for the second straight night against Robertson. Next up to the plate was Upton, who would work a good at-bat and tie the game with a sacrifice fly.
The next batter was Matt Joyce, who blew the game open with a three-run homer to give the Rays a 4-1 lead. The Rays would not score anymore runs in the inning , but the late-inning magic would be enough to win this one.
Fernando Rodney—who pitched the eight inning—made pretty quick work of the Yanks in the ninth, closing out a 4-1 victory.
It was an impressive win for the Rays, and it was great to see Niemann shine and have his first deep outing of the year. Although his efficiency has a been a bit spotty this season, Niemann's put together some quality outings this year. I don't he gets the credit as he deserves, as he's given his team a chance to win in every single game this season. How many fifth starters in the league can say that?
With last night's win, the Rays have reached 20 wins. They improve to 20-11 (7-8 on the road), and retake a 3.5 game lead over the Yankees in the division. They currently have sole possession of first place (half a game up over the Orioles).
Notable stat lines from yesterday's game:
- B. Zobrist: 2-4, R, BB
- B.J. Upton: 1-3, RBI, BB
- M. Joyce: 2-5, 3 RBI, R
- J. Niemann: ER, 6 H, 5 K, BB through 7.0 IP; ERA now 3.48
- F. Rodney (W, 2-0): 0 R, 3 H, 2 K through 2.0 IP
- Click here for a full boxscore of the game
Rays news and notes:
- Desmond Jennings had a pinch-hit appearance in last night's game, which means he should be good to go for tomorrow.
- Keppinger's Restricted List absence is due to a divorce hearing.
- Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times takes a look at Hideki Matsui's contract. Matsui also said he felt good in his first extended spring training game.
- Tonight the Rays and Yankees square off for the rubber match in the series at 7:05 PM first pitch. In an anticipate marquee matchup, the top two lefties in the American League are set to face off for what should be a great game.
- David Price, Sean Rodriguez, and James Shields visited the MLB Fan Cave yesterday.
Win expectancy chart courtesy of FanGraphs.com: