Cliff Lee versus David Price.
Stick those 5 words into that order and many thoughts come into your head. A pair of great lefties in the AL? Battle of two Cy Young candidates? A potential game 1 match up in the playoffs? Tonight felt like all those things considering it was just a regular home game on a Monday in August.
It was pretty much as advertised. The first few innings went by so fast, you would think the game would end in 2 hours in a 1-0 score. Lee profiles as the ultimate problem starter for the Rays, a low-walk, high-strikeout left-handed pitcher. Price presented many challenges to a worn-down Rangers line up that does not hit well on the road. As Price was throwing in the upper 90s with pure power and getting swings and missed with his fastball, Lee was using his pinpoint control to dominate the Rays.
With Shoppach behind the plate, we saw the usual game plan, lots of fastballs that generate the swings and misses we've come to enjoy. Of his 108 pitches, 89 were fastballs and 56 went for strikes. Of those 56, 14 were swinging strikes or 25% leading to 8 strikeouts. But in his 6 innings in addition to those strikeouts, he had 5BBs. Price still has bouts of temporary control loss, but it's much better this year. The only time he had noticeable problems was in the top of the 7th, after a 27-pitch, high stress inning, was back out onto the mound after only a 4 minute break. The results lead to a Molina double and a 4-pitch walk to Murphy and his night ended. Unfortunately the bullpen did not fair much better. Chad Qualls had a day of control issues too, walking the bases loaded and also allowing the tying run to score in the top of the 7th after getting a double play. The 8th didn't fair much better as the Rangers got a lead off triple from Joaquin Arias, the Rangers scored again on another double play, and got a 2nd triple to score their 4th run on an infield single. Not exactly our bullpen's best pitched game lately, but a couple of misreads by Crawford on Molina's double and Zobrist on Cantu's triple didn't help matters.
On the other side, the offense had one of those games you haven't seen in a while. They obviously knew with a combination of Lee/Molina-the walk and stolen base concept of the offense would be taken away. For a rare night, you saw the Rays be extremely aggressive, swinging early in count and generating low pitch count innings for Lee. It didn't work very well for most of the game, most notably the sixth inning, but it came together at the end. During the bottom of the fifth, after the a lead-off walk to Pena by Lee(10th BB all year and 1st by a lefty), and a single by S-Rod, put runners on 1st & 2nd, no outs. After a sac bunt by Zobrist to move them into scoring position, Willy Aybar had the first big AB for the Rays. Fouling off numerous pitches, he was able to take a poor pitch outside of the strike zone & bloop it into RCF. Normally you don't want to swing at those, but with the way Lee was throwing, you didn't have much choice.
The most important AB though was Carl Crawford's in the 8th. Down 4-2, with runners on the corners and 1 out, you were hoping he'd at least put the ball into play, and be able to close the gap to 1 run. After getting two strikes on the count, he fouled off numerous pitches and hit a GB to second. Normally, it's a force out and given the way Arias fielded, it's an out at first. But he chose to go to second, not realizing Jason Bartlett is not Bengie Molina. This came shortly after allowing BJUpton to reach on a bloop double over his head in right field. After that 3 of the next 4 hitters for the Rays hit RBI singles to turn a 4-3 deficit to a 6-4 lead with Pena hitting the go-ahead single.
Rays 3, Lee 0
Notes from the game:
- It's pretty rare you see a pitcher strike out 10 with only 1 walk, and actually have your K/BB Ratio go DOWN. Just continues to highlight what a season Cliff Lee is having. Thankfully he went to Texas and not New York.
- Tonight was an odd night for 2B. In addition to Arias taking a vacation from the position, Sean Rodriguez's shirt ate the ball. While not totally unusual, I don't think I've ever seen it go in from the top, usually it's from a button.
- Nice to remember how much defense can help impact a game. Even when the Rays have a couple of outfield misplays, they can still back it up with a couple of well-turned double plays, 2CS and an outfield assist from RF.
- Rays really like the 8th inning for scoring. Lee has given up only 5 runs through the first 7, but 8 in the 8th in his 3 starts.