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Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Mike McCoy leaps in the air missing a ball hit by the Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria during the third inning of their MLB American League baseball game in St. Petersburg, Florida June 8, 2010.


No need to worry about the bullpen this time around.

Tampa starter Jeff Niemann refused to let the game get that far as a viable contest.

With the rest of the baseball world seemingly fixated on Nationals Park, where Washington phenom Stephen Strasburg struck out 14 in a sparkling major-league debut, the Rays right-hander put on something of a pitching clinic of his own at Tropicana Field. The towering 6-foot-9 hurler cut down the vaunted Blue Jay offence with ease, limiting the visitors to just two hits and one walk in a 9-0 complete-game shutout on Tuesday night, holding Toronto without a home run for just the second time in the last 10 games.

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"He's a good pitcher," said a complimentary Cito Gaston, the Blue Jays manage. "He has got good stuff, kept the ball down. I thought maybe he didn't get his breaking ball over as he'd like to until the end of the game but he seemed to get his cutter over a little bit and his fastball. He pitched a great game for them."

Niemann, who improved his record to 6-0 with the win, easily outduelled Toronto left-hander Brian Tallet, who fell to 1-2 with a performance that will have done little to silence the doubters over his long-term viability as a starter.

However, Tallet admitted a stomach bug may have undermined his ability to compete on the night.

"There's that bug going around," Tallet said after seeing his earned-run average balloon to 5.60. "It was going around in Toronto, a couple of guys caught it, my son had it right before we left to come down here. I thought I might be in the clear, but it seems to have found its way to me. You can use that as an excuse, but I pitched good enough for four innings to go out there for a fifth, but I guess more than anything I didn't execute."

After suffering through a pair of late-inning meltdowns against the Rays at Rogers Centre last week, the first of which denied Tallet what seemed a likely win after he left with a 5-0 lead, Toronto came to Tampa hot on the heels of a 2-1 series win over the defending World Series-champion New York Yankees.

But the inability to come away with what could easily have been a clean sweep of the six games against baseball's best two teams has seemed to gnaw away at Cito Gaston's men.

Even veteran centre fielder Vernon Wells, who brought the majors' longest active hitting streak of 14 games into the game, seemed almost oblivious to his personal success.

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"I haven't paid that much attention to it to be honest," he said of his run, which came to a screeching halt during the one-sided reverse. "It's more about winning games, and we've lost some tough ones lately, so that's all that really matters right now."

The portents for success hardly looked good from the opening pitch Tuesday night, however, and for much of the early going it seemed like a matter of when, not if, the home team would get on the board.

The Rays were quick to turn up the pressure on Tallet, putting two men on in both the first and third innings.

Centre fielder B.J. Upton got as far as second in Tampa's first time up to bat, advanced on a Sean Rodriguez bunt, while an Evan Longoria line drive put Upton 90 feet from the opening the scoring, but Tallet wriggled out of the jam on each occasion.

However, he wasn't as fortunate in the bottom of the fourth. Rays first baseman Carlos Pena, who came into the contest batting just .175, wasted no time in smacking an 0-1 fastball over the right-field fence and it was advantage Tampa.

Things just went downhill from there.

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After walking Tampa shortstop Reid Brignac to open the fifth, Upton singled and Rodriguez was hit by a pitch on an attempted bunt to load the bases.

Longoria, who collected three hits on the night, then stepped up to drive home two more runs, before Willy Aybar added a fourth to spell the end of Tallet's night.

To give him credit, Tallet was man enough to admit he had erred on Longoria's two-RBI single.

"I made a decent pitch on Longoria, but it's hittable," he said, "and what do good hitters do with hittable pitches? They hit 'em, and that's pretty much the tale of the tape."

And though Tallet was spared further abuse, the Blue Jay bullpen was once again caught in the line of fire.

Despite inheriting two runners, left-handed reliever Rommie Lewis started out well enough by striking out Tampa right fielder Ben Zobrist for the first out of the inning, but after giving up a single to Aybar and walking Kelly Shoppach, Lewis served up a grand slam to Pena to signal the end of the game as a contest.

Chalking the blowout up as the sort of game you brush under the carpet, Gaston immediately turned his attention to Wednesday's second game of the series, and more importantly, the effect Tallet's early night may have had on his already-strained bullpen.

"We certainly burned up our long guys for tomorrow," he fretted, "so hopefully [starter Shaun]Marcum can give us some innings."

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