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Leftfielder Sam Fuld puts Tampa Bay Rays in position for win with two superb defensive plays in eighth inning

ST. PETERSBURG — When Marlins 2B Omar Infante ripped a hooking liner to deep left to lead off the eighth inning Sunday, RHP James Shields thought "it was a double off the bat."

Then Shields considered the fact that, hey, that's "Super" Sam Fuld in leftfield.

"As (Fuld) was running, I was saying to myself, 'You know, Super Man Sam might have a chance here,' " Shields said.

Fuld certainly did, making a spectacular diving catch near the warning track, one of two diving grabs in the inning. The second, in which he sprinted in to snag a Dewayne Wise blooper, ended the inning and sparked a standing ovation.

"It's been a little while since I've done something like that," Fuld said. "Those sort of things tend to happen in bunches for whatever reason, like home runs and stolen bases. It seems like a lot of the time it happens all at once. But I never expected to do something like that twice in one inning."

Fuld, whose penchant for daring diving catches this season sparked a May superhero cape giveaway, said the places both balls were hit, to the side and front of him, lent themselves to aggressive approaches. And he had a good read on them.

"Once again, we put Sam out there and he does the spectacular," manager Joe Maddon said. "I really didn't think he was going to catch the ball by Infante. … But he has really good closing speed and he's fearless, and that's a big part of why he's able to make those plays."

Of all his memorable catches this season, Fuld said the one in Chicago in early April was his favorite and the toughest, considering the ground he covered before a fully extended dive at the track.

But, as Shields said, "It just amazes me every time he does it."

OFF THE MARK: As a two-time Gold Glove Award winner, 3B Evan Longoria takes tremendous pride in his defense. So after he tied a career worst with two errors Sunday, his most since Sept. 21, 2008, in his rookie season, he was understandably disappointed.

In the first, Longoria bobbled a Wise chopper that had a lot of spin, and in the eighth he made a throwing error, his fifth of the season (he had 14 in 2010).

"My defense isn't where I want it to be," Longoria said. "I haven't been playing like I should be. I don't know what it is, just more ground balls, or a lack of focus or what. I feel like I should make every play so I'm pretty tough on myself."

STANDING TALL: RHP Jeff Niemann is excited to get back on the mound tonight after a month and a half on the disabled list, saying his lower back feels great and he's "ready to go."

Niemann said he got to work on some things while on rehab that he hopes will give him better success than when he was going 0-4 with a 5.92 ERA in his first five starts.

"It's kind of a little reset button," Niemann said. "You can go back to basics and get out there and get rid of some bad habits you get into. It went really well, and am looking forward to getting back out there."

Maddon didn't appear to be looking forward to seeing Niemann at the plate. "It's one of those things where you're sleeping at night and you wake up either sweating or screaming out loud," Maddon said. "That's the equivalent of watching Jeff Niemann hit."

MILLER TIME: The Rays will make their first trip to Miller Park in Milwaukee, and those who have played there say it's a bit unique. "It's a little futuristic," said Fuld, who played there while with the Cubs. "It looks like you're in a space ship."

GOING NATIONAL: With the Rays heading to National League parks, they went through refresher drills before Friday's game, getting prepared for all the nuances and different rules involved. "We've got everything hopefully down again," Maddon said. "I know (Brewers manager) Ronnie Roenicke, he's very fundamental, so we'll see a lot of stuff out of them."

Leftfielder Sam Fuld puts Tampa Bay Rays in position for win with two superb defensive plays in eighth inning 06/19/11 [Last modified: Sunday, June 19, 2011 9:08pm]
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