Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jeff Niemann has strong start in front of hometown crowd as Tampa Bay Rays beat Houston Astros

HOUSTON — For right-hander Jeff Niemann, pitching in his hometown for the first time as a pro was special enough.

That he delivered such a strong performance — giving up two runs over seven innings in the Rays' 4-2 win over the Astros on Saturday — made it especially sweet for him, as well as the around 40 family members and friends in the stands at Minute Maid Park.

"It's a great thing to be able to come home finally and leave with a win," Niemann said. "It was fun."

Tampa Bay (31-12) has won seven of its past eight and again has a five-game lead over the Yankees in the American League East. To get there, they slew another left-handed starter (Wandy Rodriguez), making them a major-league-best 15-5 against southpaws this season, with wins in 10 of their past 11.

The key to that success? They're still not hitting them well (a .238 average entering Saturday's game), but Rays starting pitchers have a 1.67 ERA in those wins, giving up no earned runs in five of them.

Niemann did his part, bouncing back after a rocky first inning. He got some help from his defense as second baseman Ben Zobrist made two great plays in the first inning to limit the damage to one run: a diving grab of Michael Bourn's leadoff liner; and a heady behind-the-back flip to shortstop Jason Bartlett to force out a runner at second with the bases loaded and one out.

The Rays weren't flawless, getting picked off on the bases for the fourth straight game as Carl Crawford got caught by catcher Humberto Quintero in the first. Gabe Kapler got trapped in a rundown between first and second in the sixth, and B.J. Upton, trying to score on the play, got thrown out at home.

But Maddon said he was most upset about his own mental mistake, failing to notice that Astros coaches made two trips to the mound to visit Wilton Lopez in the ninth, which should have forced a pitching change.

"That was one of the most bizarre victories I've ever been associated with in a sense where you can be that bad, but that good, and fortunately come out on top," Maddon said.

Struggling catcher Dioner Navarro finally found some good fortune with a two-run double in the fourth, which gave the Rays the lead for good at 2-1. They were his first RBIs since April 9, and he has just four overall while hitting .188.

Maddon said before the game that Navarro had been hitting into a number of line-drive outs. Navarro caught a break on a bloop double that bounced out of Hunter Pence's outstretched glove in right.

"It's been a while," Navarro said, smiling. "Just got lucky, man. … The kind of year I've been having, it wouldn't have been weird if he would have caught that ball."

Joked Maddon: "And the ground can cause a fumble. That's the beauty of major-league baseball."

Niemann, who remembered watching the Astros as a kid, attended the opener at Minute Maid Park in 2000 and pitched here for Rice University, wasn't the only Houston native to step up; Crawford also had a huge game, going 4-for-5.

The bullpen was great again, with Grant Balfour throwing a scoreless eighth and Rafael Soriano picking up his 12th save in 12 chances with a 1-2-3 ninth.

"That was the best stuff he's had all year," Maddon said. "Soriano was really, really lights out in the ninth, that was nice to see."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Jeff Niemann has strong start in front of hometown crowd as Tampa Bay Rays beat Houston Astros 05/22/10 [Last modified: Sunday, May 23, 2010 3:19am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 'Deadliest Catch' captain talks reality TV, Snoop Dogg and Tampa Bay

    Outdoors

    Keith Colburn is best known as captain of the Wizard on the Discovery Network series Deadliest Catch. Colburn and crew go to battle in the Bering Sea working one of the deadliest jobs in America. A seasoned veteran, Keith has filmed 11 seasons of the show and is still going strong with his relief captain …

    Captain Keith Colburn is seen in this undated photo courtesy of the Discovery Channel. Courtesy of the Discovery Channel
  2. HomeTeam 100: Players 51-60

    Footballpreps

    TAMPA - Wharton defensive back AJ Hampton will help lead the Wildcats into the 2017 season. Taken 7-6-17 by Scott Purks
  3. Rays series preview: Who are the Rangers?

    Blogs

    The road trip is done, but the Rays will still face a western team, as they tasks on the Rangers in a three-game series at Tropicana Field. Here's the information you need to know about Texas before the action kicks off.

    Record: 45-50, fourth in AL West

    Starter Tyson Ross, left, and catcher Jonathan Lucroy, right, have struggled immensely this season.
  4. Checklist to help Bucs swagger into the postseason

    Bucs

    To boost their playoff prospects, the Bucs need to beat Atlanta at least once, as they did last year. Twice would be even nicer. (Loren Elliott, Times)
  5. Baddest of them all? Steelers LB James Harrison, hands down

    Bucs

    "No badass list is complete - or should begin anywhere else other than with - James Harrison," says Eric Edholm, an NFL writer who has worked at Yahoo Sports. (Associated Press)