Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Stephen Strasburg Magnificent in Majors Debut; Pena, Neimann Lead 1st-Place Rays

Players of the Day for Tuesday, June 8, 2010 American League With the Yankees and Red Sox right behind them, there will be no rest maintaining a lead in the AL East for the Tampa Bay Rays, so they have to get their best from both the pitching staff and their regular players. That's exactly what they got in Tuesday's 9-0 win over Toronto - also in the AL East mix - as starter Jeff Niemann (left) went the distance with a 2-hit shutout and Carlos Pena (right) broke out of his season-long slump just long enough to blast two homers - one a grand slam - and drive in five of the Rays' ten runs. Facing a Toronto team that leads the majors in home runs, Niemann was undaunted, tossing a no-hitter until Mike McCoy singled with one out in the 6th inning. Niemann gave up another single to Adam Lind, leading off the 7th, but finished strong, retiring the last nine batters in order. The win was his first complete game shutout of the season, a trick he turned twice in 2009. Neimann is 6-0, with a 2.48 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP. At the plate, Carlos Pena did his damage with two swings of the bat. After belting a solo homer in the 4th inning, he finished off a 7-run Rays' 5th with a towering grand slam to right field. The homers were his 10th and 11th of the season, and, despite batting just .187, Pena's five RBI gave him 39 on the year. Tampa Bay's win kept them 2 games ahead of the Yankees and 4 up on Boston. Toronto dropped 5 1/2 off the pace, but will look to draw closer in the final two games of the series in Tampa. National League Having spent the first two months of the season laboring in the minor leagues, Stephen Strasburg has been the recipient of more press and hype than any rookie of recent vintage. In his first major league start, he lived up to all of it, turning in a stunning, dominating performance as the Washington Nationals downed the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-2. The 6'4" righty from San Diego overmatched the Pirate batters with 100 MPH fastballs and wicked, unhittable curves. Strasburg gave up four hits and two earned runs over 7 complete innings, but he struck out 14 - including the last 7 he faced - without issuing a single walk. Lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 7th with the Nats holding a 4-2 lead, Strasburg wowed the sellout crowd in the nation's capitol. The Nats' bullpen, which has been among the best in the majors at closing out opponents, kept the lead safe as Ty Clippard gave up a lonely single in the 8th for his 13th hold and Matt Capps worked a perfect 9th for his major league-leading 19th save. Both runs came on Delwyn Young's 4th inning homer, giving Pittsburgh a temporary 2-1 lead. With Strasburg solidifying the rotation and Clippard and Capps providing stellar back-end relief, the Nationals may be a force with which to reckon as the season progresses. Still under .500 (28-31), the Nats trail NL East leader Atlanta by six games, but there's still plenty of baseball to be played. In the currently wide-open division, any team that can string together wins has a chance to stay close or establish a lead into September.

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