Rays rally late to back Niemann
Rookie righty turns in another strong performance
CHICAGO -- Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon insists that if Jeff Niemann weren't somewhere in the neighborhood of "6-foot-12," nobody in the Rays clubhouse would notice his presence.
"He's a big guy," Maddon said. "He's just very quiet and he goes about his business, and he listens and he works. He does everything right."
Niemann, who actually is 6-foot-9, may not be the most flamboyant fish in the Rays' pond, but his pitching performances of late have spoken volumes for him. That trend continued on Tuesday night, when Niemann delivered yet another gem, keeping his team in the ballgame long enough for the Rays to come from behind in the ninth inning and earn a 3-2 victory over the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
It was Tampa Bay's first win when trailing after eight innings in 37 tries this season.
Niemann lasted eight frames, allowing two earned runs on eight hits while striking out seven to pick up his team-leading ninth victory (9-4). Niemann won his fifth straight decision, dating back to his first career shutout on June 3. He also tossed a shutout in his last outing, a 6-0 blanking of the A's.
"He was unbelievable," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. "He's had probably five quality starts in a row. Our record is outstanding when he pitches, and there's no secret why. He throws the ball down in the zone. He's a tough guy to face. I faced him in Spring Training, and he's not a comfortable at-bat. He's doing a heck of a job for us."
For much of Tuesday's contest, however, it looked as though one troublesome inning would do in both Neimann and the Rays (52-42).
With his team ahead, 1-0, Niemann surrendered back-to-back singles to A.J. Pierzynski and Carlos Quentin in the bottom of the fifth. Chris Getz then reached on a fielder's-choice grounder to second, with Quentin tagged out and Pierzynski moving to third on the play. Gordon Beckham then lined a double to right, scoring Pierzynski to tie the game at 1. With one out, Scott Podsednik bounced out to second, which plated Getz for a 2-1 White Sox lead.
"We're there and they took the lead, and I was like, 'Man, we need to get a run for [Niemann] to at least tie it up,'" Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett said.
It took perhaps longer than the Rays would have liked, but, just three outs from the finish line, they finally gave Niemann the run support he was looking for.
The Rays were unable to muster much through eight innings against White Sox starter Clayton Richard, who hadn't fared particularly well in his previous two starts, allowing 10 earned runs over 4 2/3 innings.
Longoria's sacrifice fly to left in the third inning scored Dioner Navarro for a 1-0 Tampa Bay lead, but it was the only run the Rays scored off Richard.
Richard retired 11 straight Rays hitters between the third and sixth innings before walking Pat Burrell to lead off the seventh. But Richard erased Burrell when he induced an inning-ending double play from Gabe Kapler.
Richard lasted a career-high eight innings, allowing one run on four hits while striking out seven, but he ran up a pitch count of 116.
That brought in White Sox closer Bobby Jenks, who struggled with his command on Monday as well, when the Rays couldn't take advantage of a ninth-inning opportunity in Game 1 of this four-game series. On Tuesday, however, they did.
It began when Bartlett, who struck out against Jenks to end Monday night's game, lined a single to left to start the ninth.
"When I was up there, I wasn't thinking about last night," Bartlett said. "I was just thinking I want to jump on something that I can hit. I don't want him to get ahead and then start throwing those sliders."
Jenks then hit Longoria with a pitch. Ben Zobrist followed by lining a single to center, loading the bases and extending his hitting streak to 11 games. Jenks missed inside on a 94-mph fastball to walk Burrell and bring in Bartlett from third with the game-tying run. Jenks blew his third save in 25 chances.
"He was having trouble throwing strikes," Burrell said. "In that situation, you've got to take advantage of that and not get too aggressive. It worked out."
Carlos Pena then lofted a sacrifice fly down the right-field line, scoring Longoria for the go-ahead run.
Rays reliever J.P. Howell entered in the bottom of the ninth and closed the door on the White Sox (48-45), evening the series at one game each. The Rays came from behind to win for the fourth time in five games.
Niemann managed to escape a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the seventh to keep the Rays in the contest. After hitting Quentin and surrendering singles to Getz and Beckham, Niemann struck out Podsednik and Alexei Ramirez swinging to end the inning.
"For me, right there, that was the game," Niemann said. "I had to keep them right there at that point."
Niemann did. And two innings later the Rays had another come-from-behind victory.
Jesse Temple is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.