This opening game of the ALDS was billed as the proverbial pitchers' duel between David Price and Cliff Lee, however, today, David Price failed to live up to that billing. Price pitched six and two-thirds innings allowing 9 hits and five runs (four earned), while striking out eight. On the positive side, he didn't walk anybody and was able to dial up a strikeout in a few key situations. Heck, now that the heat of the moment has passed, I can admit that Price threw a decent game, and really only made three mistakes on the day.
Those three mistakes were all four-seam fastballs that Price left up in the zone to a group of hitters that crush the fastball. All three resulted in Rangers runs. The first was a 93.7 MPH pipeline heater that Jeff Francoeur laser-beamed off the wall in dead-center to plate the Rangers first run. The second was a 3-0 'cookie' that Nelson Cruz hit about 9,000 feet off the restaurant in center, and the last mistake was another 3-0 fastball that Vladimir Guerrerro beasted off the wall in center.
Now is not the time for the Rays to be learning new things about their opponents, but perhaps they can take this away: If you throw belt-high fastballs on 3-0 to hitters that feast on the fastball, you're going to get crushed. I know that sounds pretty obvious, but with Dominican-born guys like Vlad and Cruz who live by the phrase "you can't walk off the island," you can't lose focus with a get-me-over fastball... especially in the playoffs.
Price was up in the zone all day, but that seemed to help him in terms of the called strike. Home plate umpire Tim Welke did not like the low strike today and it looks like that hurt Lee more than Price. (But he sure did like the inside pitch to right-handers) Price would then live and die by the high fastball, generating six of his seven swinging strikes on it, but also making those few key mistakes to the Rangers' potent offense.
The other two Rangers runs were courtesy of Benji Molina's bloop single in the second and his solo home run in the fourth. The home run was hit on another high fastball by Price, but the pitch was quite inside and the result was more of Molina getting around on the ball well rather than Price making a mistake.
As feared, Cliff Lee was dealing against the Rays hitters this afternoon, but not in the first inning. Jason Bartlett led off the game with a single to right and after B.J. Upton struck out, Carl Crawford singled up the middle, and Evan Longoria singled through the hole to left. The Rays had bases loaded with one out, but failed to score after Lee struck out Carlos Pena and Rocco Baldelli.
Pena's at bat caused a bit of a stink when with a 2-1 count Lee threw a pitch high and tight. Pena appeared to turn back and motion to home plate umpire Tim Welke. Whether he was motioning that the pitch hit him, or wasn't really motioning at anything is irrelevant as Welke claimed the pitch hit the bat Jeter-style and called the foul ball. Of course, Joe Maddon made the trip for the obligatory arguement, but his pleas were unheard as the count shifted to 2-2. Pena would take the count full and foul off a pitch before being caught looking on the low fastball, one of the few Welke called this afternoon. In Maddon's in-game interview, he mentioned that Welke had missed a HBP on Pena, so that appears that he was arguing where the ball hit Pena, not if the ball hit Pena.
Cliff Lee took off from there and, at one point, retired twelve Rays hitters in a row and 16 of 17 until giving up a solo homer to Ben Zobrist in the seventh. Zobrist had a nice day at the dish: a leadoff-double in the second, and that seventh inning homer were the productive hits of the day, but he also made good contact on another occasion.
While the offense only put up one run on Lee and the Rangers' pen, Sean Rodriguez, Upton, Crawford, and Zobrist all hit hard line drives that found their way into the Rangers' gloves. The best example was in the ninth inning, after Rangers closer Neftali Feliz walked Pena and Dan Johnson to lead off the inning, Zobrist stroked the ball to right field... right into the waiting glove of Francoeur. Just goes to show that today, like Edwina's insides, the Trop was a rocky place where our balls could find no purchase.
The loss obviously puts the Rays in a 0-1 deficit in this best of five series. Tomorrow brings the "James Shields Experience" to the Trop and your televisions at 2:37 PM eastern.