Rays Finish Off Sweep Of Astros With 14-10 Win

The Rays pile it on against Houston pitching to cap off a three-game sweep and pick up their MLB-leading 26th road win of the season.

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"Rays" Beat "Astros" 14-10 in Apparent Slowpitch Softball Game

Unbeknownst to the 23,965 fans at Minute Maid Park and to everyone watching on TV, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Houston Astros did not actually play the finale of their three-game series on Sunday. No, what you really saw were two of Houston’s finest city-league slowpitch softball teams, wearing the two teams’ uniforms, and who somehow played an entire game without being detected as impostors by the umpires. When it was all over, the "Rays" had beaten the "Astros" 14-10 and finished off a three-game sweep.

Suspicion that these were not two Major League teams arose in the very first inning. After "Ben Zobrist" walked, "Evan Longoria" hit a blooping double that "Hunter Pence" couldn't quite reach. Then "B.J. Upton" launched a pitch from "Astros" starter "J.A. Happ" deep to left-center for a three-run homer. The deception became more obvious in the bottom half of the inning when slow-footed "Carlos Lee" hit a triple to right-center field. "Upton" was caught out of position on a defensive shift, since everyone knows that softball sluggers with time to line up a pitch are certain to pull the ball.

The "Astros" had trouble picking up the spinning pitches from "Rays" pitcher "Jeff Niemann." But they hit his 30 mile-per-hour underhand fastballs all over the park. "Houston" collected seven runs and six extra-base hits off "Niemann" in just four innings, smashing hard liners towards left fielder "Johnny Damon," who was forced to play the field because "Sam Fuld" could not get the day off work. Fortunately "Damon" redeemed himself with a 4-for-6 day at the plate, along with two other hard-hit balls right at "Astros" players.

In the sixth inning, the "Rays" were trailing 7-5 and had a man on when "Longoria" hit a line drive deep to left that was ruled in play by the umpires. He thought he had hit a home run and slowed down around first base, and was then thrown out at second. While "Longoria" and the "Astros" defense cracked open a couple beers at second base and caught up, the umpires were able to consult video replay (this is a very well-funded softball league) to confirm that the "Longoria" hit was actually a home run.

After the "Astros" regained the lead, 8-7, the "Rays" loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth before "Matt Joyce" smoked a two-run double down the right-field line. The next batter, "Casey Kotchman", followed it up with a two-run single to give the "Rays" an 11-8 lead. But the "Astros" recovered for two in the bottom of the eighth on a double by "Chris Johnson" and a home run by "Matt Downs."

Finally in the ninth, the "Rays" put the game away. After the "Astros" turned down a potential inning-ending double play to throw surprise pinch-hitter "Wade Davis" out at the plate, "Longoria" made them pay with his second homer of the day, a three-run shot that made the score 14-10. "Kyle Farnsworth" put a stop to the madness with a perfect ninth as the "Rays" completed the sweep.

"J.P. Howell" pitched the seventh inning and was the pitcher of record when the "Rays" took the lead for good. In the process, he picked up his first win since September 2, 2009.

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Niemann Returns Home, Rays Go For Series Sweep

In what could be their second sweep in three series, the Rays take on the Astros in Game 3 this afternoon. 

Game Time: 2:05 p.m. ET at Minute Maid Park
Matchup: Jeff Niemann vs. J.A. Happ
Television: Sun Sports HD
Radio: WDAE 620

Recently returned from the Disabled List, the likely-to-be-trade-rumored Jeff Niemann (2-4, 4.82 ERA) will enjoy a homecoming as he faces off against J.A. Happ (3-9, 5.33 ERA). As reminded by mlb.com, "Niemann grew up about 15 minutes from the Astrodome and attended college in Houston at Rice University. Niemann shared mini season passes in the 'rainbow seats' of the old stadium's upper deck with his father and was at Minute Maid Park during the 2004 All-Star Game and the 2005 World Series."

In his only other start against Houston, Niemann performed well before family and friends with a quality start, allowing four hits and two runs. In his first start after spending 45 days on the DL with a strained lower back, Niemann gave up only  four hits and struck out five in six scoreless innings and allowed the Rays to nab an 8-4 win at Milwaukee on Monday. Let's hope that momentum continues. 

Today's lineup:

Damon, LF
Zobrist, RF
Longoria, 3B
Upton, CF
Rodriguez, 2B
Kotchman, 1B
Shoppach, C
Johnson, SS
Niemann, P

Johnny Damon continues to get the nod in left field, Casey Kotchman was dropped back down to sixth in the order after batting clean up (well) yesterday and Evan Longoria remains third in the order. Since shedding his batting gloves, Longoria is hitting .500. The last time B.J. Upton (also-likely-to-be-trade-rumored this season) hit clean up, Longo and Bossman hit back-to-back homeruns; Upton hit a homerun yesterday as well. More of the same please. The Rays bats have been on fire in interleague play and have won seven of their last eight games.

Also, Tampa Bay pitchers are still hit-less in interleague play. Gotta love the National League.

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AL East Heats Up, Rays Trample Astros

Boy oh boy! The Rays posted seven runs tonight, one per inning it seemed, to take down the Astros 7-2. In his 50th career start, Wade Davis pitched seven innings well, up to 95 mph, earning a quality start and allowing one run over five hits. For Davis, stellar. He only struck out three, but we'll take the win. Astro Bud Norris had five Ks but came back down to earth this evening. He allowed six hits over five innings with three earned runs and the bullpen didn't have his back. Tampa Bay have won three consecutive series, four consecutive games and will go for the sweep tomorrow afternoon at 2:00.

Now the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox are within two games of one another at 43, 44 and 44 wins respectively. Evan Longoria's results are finally improving: he went 2-for-4 with two doubles, a walk and two RBI's tonight. Longoria has recently stopped using batting gloves, which he said makes his hands "sore," (no kidding!) and it's given him vast improvement. He has hit 4-for-8 this series. 

Ben Zobrist scored two runs on two walks, B.J. Upton had two hits (including a homerun) and Casey Kotchman kept up his magic, going 3-for-5 in the fourth slot. Offense, people. It's a beautiful thing. All in all, 8 Rays combined for 13 hits and the Rays are 8-3 in interleague play this season. The Rays are now nine games over .500 for the first time this season. On this road trip Tampa Bay starting pitchers have allowed six earned runs in 36 innings. At age 25, this was Wade Davis's 50th career start.

Game Notes from mlb.com:

  • Davis held the opposing team homerless for just the second time in his past nine starts.
  • Johnny Damon's RBI single in the second inning gave the Rays a 2-0 lead and moved the left fielder past Jimmie Foxx for 72nd place all-time in hits.
  • With the stellar defensive plays came two uncharacteristic mistakes. Reid Brignac misplayed a Hunter Pence grounder in the sixth inning, and Sam Fuld was charged with an error on a dropped fly ball in the eighth inning. The blunders were just the seventh and eighth errors the Rays have committed in their Past 20 games.
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Wade Davis, Rays Look For Third Consecutive Win

The Tampa Bay Rays look for a third consecutive series win against the Houston Astros in tonight's Game 2. Coming off three straight wins and James Shield's third consecutive complete game, the Rays will have momentum on their side. 

Game Time: 8:05 p.m. ET @ Minute Maid Park
Matchup: Wade Davis vs. Bud Norris
Television: Sun Sports HD 
Radio: WDAE 620

The Rays will have their work cut out for them, Astros starter Bud Norris has pitched an 0.86 ERA and allowed only two runs in his last three starts. You'd think his middle name is Chuck! (actually, it's Stefan. David Stefan Norris - Bud for short). 

Wade Davis has been "on the rise" himself, holding the Marlins to one run over six innings in his last start, but has not gone seven innings since May 19th and He's had a meek K/9 of 4.32 in the month of June (not good). He's struggled mightily with velocity and control all season and been streak-y with 2 Losses, 5 Wins, 5 Losses, then 2 Wins thus far. At this rate is due for at least three more wins, right?

Then again, Davis is coming off seven days rest to keep James Shields on a normal 5-day rotation... so he will need backup. Luckily, the Rays bats swing well in interleague play. Winning six of their last seven, the Rays posted at least five runs in five of those six wins (something that has proved difficult this season). Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton belted back-to-back homeruns in last night's victory but will not have the same opportunity tonight as Joe Maddon shakes up the batting order yet again: via mlb.com

Damon, LF
Zobrist, 2B
Longoria, 3B
Kotchman, 1B
Joyce, RF
Upton, CF
Jaso, C
Brignac, SS
Davis, P

Rays pitchers have done their job, posting a 1.43 ERA in the last seven game, but are still without a hit this year. Thirteen strikeouts, 0-18...

To echo our editor: 

Remind me again, why does the National League have pitchers hit? Comedic interludes?

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James Shields Throws Third-Straight Complete Game, Rays Win 5-1

I don’t even know what to say anymore. James Shields’ complete game shutout against Boston was impressive as heck. Following that up against the Marlins with another complete game was remarkable. And now, throwing yet another complete game? This actually isn’t as rare an occurrence as you’d think — it’s happened 40 times since 1992, and twice just last season — but it’s still incredibly impressive.

Shields attacked the game last night much like he’s pitched in his other complete games: use his fastball early, and then break out the changeup and breaking pitches more as the game goes along. He kept his changeups low in the zone, and threw about as many changes as curveballs. Also, both his change and his curve generated 7 swinging strikes (around 20-25% for each pitch). His curveball really seems to be a huge difference for him this season — with it he has another weapon to go with his change, and it seems he’s not afraid to throw it in any count.

This complete game is Shields’ sixth on the season, meaning he’s now thrown more complete games in this season than during the entire rest of his career. He’s leading the majors in complete games, with only Roy Halladay and Justin Verlander even being close (they have four each). Shields is putting on a heck of a show these days, and if he keeps this going one more start, he starts entering rarified air that’s been entered only by Roy Halladay in recent years. Not that I’m expecting

Game Notes:

- The offense was led by the top four spots in the lineup, while the bottom half of the lineup combined to go 1-20. That lone hit? Of course, it was Kotchman roping a double. As for the top part of the lineup, it was excellent to see Longoria finally start ripping the ball; he had two hits last night, including a homerun. Could this be a sign of things to come? Fingers crossed.

- I have to admit, I was skeptical of Rodriguez hitting leadoff, even with his improved plate discipline this season. But he had a great night, going 3-4 and stealing a base. It also seems he made the pitcher work deeper into the count each time, so hey, good job S-Rod.

- B.J. Upton had his 9th homerun and 20th stolen base of the year. It’s looking like he’s going to be right around the 20/40 mark like last season, assuming he keeps it up.

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Rays Vs. Astros: Didn't The Rays Face These Guys Last Year?

Honest question: with 16 teams in the National League, why would any team have to face the same franchise two years in a row in interleague play? I can understand teams with natural "rivalries" playing each other each year, but it seems very strange that the Rays and Astros are matching up again for the second year in a row.

Not that this is a bad thing for the Rays: the Astros currently have the worst record in the majors by a wide margin (.368 winning percentage), so it should make for an easy series. But from the fan's perspective, it's boring -- the Astros are about as exciting a team as a piece of moldy toast.

Today, James Shields (2.40 ERA, 3.23 FIP) and Wandy Rodriguez (2.88 ERA, 3.74 FIP) will oppose each other. Shields is coming off his second-straight complete game -- it would have his second straight shutout too, if not for one unearned run scoring -- but I think everyone's attention is going to be most firmly fixed on when he comes to the plate. The Rays' pitchers have yet to get a hit during interleague play, and excitement (!!!) is building over which starter will finally break the streak.*

*Remind me again, why does the National League have pitchers hit? Comedic interludes? 

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Game Time: 8:05 p.m. ET at Minute Maid Park
Matchup: James Shields vs. Wandy Rodriguez
Television: Sun Sports HD 
Radio: WDAE 620

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