CHICAGO — The three consecutive eighth-inning rallies in Kansas City were pretty good. But the Rays took their comebacking to another level Tuesday, rallying from behind in the ninth inning for the first time this season and beating the White Sox 3-2.
"That feels really good to be able to do that," Carlos Peña said. "Kansas City, this win right here, that is such a good sign. To be able to feel it — I guarantee you every person in this dugout felt, 'We can do this, we can do this.' And that's a good thing to have."
The first 36 times they trailed going to the ninth, they ended the night that way. But not Tuesday, as they pieced together a two-run rally with the help of Sox closer Bobby Jenks, with DH Pat Burrell drawing a bases-loaded walk to force in the tying run and Peña's sac fly scoring the winner. They improved to 52-42 and stayed 4½ games behind the first-place Yankees in the AL East as the Red Sox dropped to second.
The largest reason they were able to do that was another huge performance from their biggest winner, as Jeff Niemann went eight strong innings to pick up his ninth win, high on the team and matching the most among major-league rookies. The country music playing in the clubhouse was a proper tribute to the tall Texan.
"Niemann possibly has thrown the three best-pitched games we've had all year, with the two shutouts and now this one," manager Joe Maddon said. "He was really good. From where I was standing watching that thing — strike-throwing, ball down, breaking ball for a strike, composure. That's a good hitting ballclub. He did a really good job."
Niemann, joking he was "well rested" in his first start since July 10, delivered eight strong innings, scattering eight hits, striking out seven and not walking any. Pretty good for a rookie who didn't make the team until the last day of spring training.
"This guy's really climbing right now," Maddon said. "He's done everything right. You don't even know he's around except that he's like 6-12. He's a big guy, but he's very quiet, he goes about his business, and he listens and he works and he's done everything right."
As Niemann — who's really only 6 feet 9 — maintained, he's just trying to do what he can to help, James Shields, tonight's starter, walked by and hollered out, "Tough one to follow."
Niemann was at his best after loading the bases with one out, down 2-1 in the seventh, then keeping it that way by striking out Scott Podsednik and Alexei Ramirez.
"For me, right there, that was the game," he said. "I had to keep them right there at that point, was able to make some pitches and it worked out."
The Rays hadn't scored a run off Sox closer Jenks in, well, ever — 12 innings over 11 previous outings. They got two Tuesday, and Jenks pitched in. Jason Bartlett, who struck out against Jenks with the bases loaded to end Monday's game, started it with a single, raising his average to .346, then Evan Longoria was hit by a pitch. Ben Zobrist, batting cleanup in an unusual lineup against lefty Clayton Richard, singled to load the bases. Burrell, in a skid of 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts and a walk, took a walk to force in the tying run, then Peña lofted a sac fly to right.
"You've got to be able to do that on occasion," Maddon said. "That's not easy to do."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com