Tampa Bay Rays
Baltimore's Millwood baffles Rays
The night after clinching a playoff berth, beer and champagne isn't what the Rays had on ice. Three hits is all they managed Wednesday night in a 2-0 loss to the annoying Orioles that kept them from taking advantage of a Yankees loss and left them clinging to a half-game lead in the AL East. This one made little sense. The Rays normally respond to a big home crowd, and, thanks to a 20,000-ticket giveaway, they had an electric atmosphere and full house of 36,973 fans. But on a night in which Jeff Niemann turned back into Jeff Niemann and made his best start since coming off the disabled list Aug. 25, the Rays couldn't handle a pitcher who had lost 16 of his 19 starts.Kevin Millwood (4-16) dispatched a Rays lineup still missing Evan Longoria, allowing only a leadoff single to John Jaso in the fourth and a bloop single to Carl Crawford in the seventh. "Can't explain it," third baseman Dan Johnson said after going 0-for-4 from the cleanup spot. "He was slicing us up, wasn't he? He was locating well; he was missing the barrel everywhere." Manager Joe Maddon said he didn't think Tuesday night's celebration after clinching at least the wild-card berth had anything to do with the dearth of offense. "I don't think that, because we played well," he said. "We made some really good plays on defense. Everybody was in tune. I thought we were definitely there today; we just got outpitched." But not by much. Niemann (11-8), displaying the command and demeanor that made him the team's most consistent pitcher for almost a year, retired 17 of the first 20 batters he faced and allowed only two runs on four hits in seven innings - his longest outing since Aug. 3. He made one costly mistake, hanging a splitter that Felix Pie drove to right center over Matt Joyce's head for a two-run triple in the seventh. To start the decisive seventh, Niemann walked Nick Markakis and got a highlight-show save from B.J. Upton, who sprinted to his left to make a diving catch on a well-hit line drive by Luke Scott. Upton got a standing ovation from the fans in right center, who started chanting his name. Joyce made a running catch on a fly ball by Matt Wieters for the second out, but Adam Jones singled and Pie followed with his triple. "One pitch; that's how it works," said Niemann, who added that he otherwise felt "everything was 10 times better than it has been." Maddon said Niemann was as good as he has looked in some time. "He had his normal look about him, his normal stuff," he said. "His fastball was moving a lot, he was throwing it for a strike, his breaking pitches were good. He deserved a better fate." The Rays' only serious scoring chance came in the seventh, when Ben Zobrist walked and Crawford singled to open the inning. A ground out by Johnson put runners at second and third with one out. But Millwood got Carlos Peña to fly out to center and, after issuing an intentional walk to Joyce to load the bases, struck out Upton. Peña went 0-for-3, and his batting average dropped another point to .198. Upton went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, dropping to .238. "He just didn't leave any balls over the plate," Upton said of Millwood. "He's been pitching for years. He knows how to pitch, and obviously he didn't give us much to hit."
Reporter Tony Fabrizio can be reached at (813) 259-7994.