You only get to play the team you're chasing so many times. You have to beat them. In the Rays situation, they would basically need to sweep Boston to have any chance of contending for the division title. They did not.
You only get to throw your ace so many times. David Price pitches once every five games. That means that once every five days, the FanGraphs win expectancy chart is decidedly wrong. When the first pitch is thrown, it's not a 50-50 affair. it's a [50 + (Price-Opponent)] - [50 + (Opponent-Price)]. Price-Opponent is a positive number. Every David Price start that the Rays don't win is a missed opportunity. When he pitches like he did tonight, it's even worse.
You only get to throw your ace so many times. Now take the long view. David Price won't be here in Tampa Bay forever. He's a great pitcher, arguably the best in the world, and that means that he will become expensive, even before he exhausts his years of team control. He may not be back next season. There may be only three more times ever that the Rays get to start with a in expectancy of [50 + (Price-Opponent)].
You only get so many chances to make a good defensive play. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the Mike Napoli double in the top of the fifth inning should have been scored an error, but it's a play Desmond Jennings might have made. After working a long at bat, Napoli drove a changeup straight back to the wall in center field. Jennings never looked comfortable on the play, but he did get there. He actually got there a bit too soon, and he didn't appear to know where the wall was. He jumped back into the wall rather than straight up and the collision prevented him from extending his glove far enough to make the catch. Players can slump in the field, just as they slump in the batter's box. Right now Desmond Jennings is slumping in the field.
You only get so many chances to bat with runners in scoring position. Against David Price tonight, Jonny Gomes took his chance. In a 1-2 count, Gomes guessed that he was about to get a backdoor cutter. It was a reasonable guess. Price's two main secondary-pitch weapons against lefties are the backdoor cutter and the changeup, and I think that Price was struggling with his changeup command tonight. More importantly than whether or not it was a good guess, it was the correct guess. Even though the cutter that Price threw was actually off the plate outside, Gomes was able to lean over and hook it for a hit back up the middle.
You only get so many chances to throw a slow runner out at the plate. Jennings charged the Gomes single well, and fielded it shallow with good momentum coming forward. I know he has a weak arm, but if there was ever a situation in which he'd be able to make a play, this was it. He did not. The throw was way offline and short, and while Price was backing the play up, Gomes was able to coast into second. At this point, I'd like to see Jennings charge balls, look aggressive, and then hit the cuttoff man no matter how shallow he is or how important that first run might be. Daniel Nava laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Gomes to third, and then Jarrod Saltalamacchia brought him home with a deep flyout.
You only get to send the tying run to the plate with zero outs and your three best right handed bats due against a left-handed pitcher so many times. For the bottom of the sixth inning, Craig Breslow relieved the excellent Clay Buchholz, who was on a low pitch count after returning from the DL. Yunel Escobar, batting ninth, worked a walk, and Joe Maddon immediately pinch hit Wil Myers for David DeJesus. On the eighth pitch of the at bat, in a full count, Myers hit a chopper to short, but beat out the potential double play. With Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria due up, though, the Rays still had a serious threat in the works. But Zobrist grounded to second and Pedroia was able to tag Myers out in the basepath before completing the inning ending double play.
You only get to pinch hit with your marquis lefty-masher acquisition as the potential tying run against a tiring left-handed pitcher so many times. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Matt Joyce worked a walk against Breslow. After James Loney flew out to shallow left field, Delmon Young was sent in to pinch hit (with two outs) for Luke Scott. Amazingly, preposterously, a righty was not brought in to relieve Breslow, who was pitching to his seventh batter of the game. Young showed an admirably discriminating eye, and worked the count 3-1. Then he got a fat 91 mph fastball in the middle of the plate. He swung but he missed, and fouled it back. He grounded out harmlessly on the next pitch, a fastball down.
When you get to Koji Uehara, you have no more chances. The splitter he used to strike out Longoria was one of the nastier pitches I've seen. I bet that even if Longo got to see it in slow motion like we did on the replay, he still swings, and he still misses it by four inches.
Some other notes:
- It would be wrong to talk about this game without emphasizing how good Price was. He threw a career high 127 pitches and completed eight innings. He struck out nine Sox, walked none, and only allowed three hits (two of them back to back, unfortunately, but as I mentioned, credit to Jonny Gomes). Price used all of his pitches, but he got most of his strikeouts simply from changing location with a 92-94 mph fastball. After giving up runs in the fifth inning, he struck out the side in the sixth. The fact that he ran such a high pitch count was no fault of his own. Price pounded the zone. The Red Sox were simply unable to put most of his strikes in play.
- Buchholz was also very good tonight, although his pitch count was being limited. He relied very heavily on his excellent cutter, throwing it 26 times out of 74 pitches.
- I don't think that Jennings looks at all comfortable in center field right now. Other than the play I've already talked about, he had a few other iffy situations. Once he jumped on the warning track when there was really no need (he overestimated how close to the wall he was), and once he had to alter his angle since his initial heading wasn't deep enough. He's a very good fielder, but I think he's going through a tough bit right at the moment.
- If you knew nothing about who the best hitters were, but new about baseball generally, the quickest way to scout the league wouldn't be to watch hitters. It would be to watch how pitchers attacked hitters. Mostly Price just moved his fastball around and overpowered the Boston lineup. But every time David Ortiz came to the plate, Price pulled out all the stops. He threw cutters, changeups, and curves to Ortiz, inside and outside. It was respect through the game plan. While Ortiz didn't get on base, he did hit the ball hard a few times.
- Both David DeJesus and Matt Joyce were thrown out trying to take second. Joyce's catching came with James Loney batting with one out in a 3-2 count. It was a called strike right over the plate, and Loney should really have been swinging.
- Luke Scott shaved his beard. He's now clean cut in the extreme. It looks like he shaved just a few minutes before game time. I'm impressed by his ability to impersonate a Wall Street financier, but I'm not sure if I like it.
- If you were playing a drinking game where your cue was Brian Anderson or Dewayne Staats saying something about Will Middlebrooks and Mike Napoli sharing player of the week honors, you won/lost.
- It might be tempting to blame Angel Hernandez. Rays players certainly seemed unhappy with his strikezone. I think that would be wrong, though. He was consistent, and many of the times that the Rays were perturbed, he was right.