After the four game sweep of Boston the Rays came into Chicago with all the confidence in the world. The home run by Carl Crawford in the top of the first inning allowed that confidence to grow that much more. Sadly, it would end there as John Danks pitched a beautiful game, halting the Rays' winning streak at seven.
The Rays had no answer for the lefty, unless you call flailing at changeups away an "answer". The Rays' lineup struck out nine times against Danks in eight innings while only registering two hits, both by Carl Crawford. Hell, their only other hit was a single by Crawford in the 9th. It was the aforementioned changeup that really gave the hitters fits. Danks could seemingly throw it on the outside part of the plate at will, pulling the string and getting the Rays hitters to helplessly whiff at it. He threw 29 changeups on the night and recorded 5 swinging strikes, or five more than his four-seam or two-seam fastballs generated combined.
Unfortunately for the Rays, David Price wasn't quite as dominant. After going seven innings while striking out at least seven in his two previous outings, he only lasted into the sixth this time around. He wasn't pitching poorly by any stretch, getting 10 swinging strikes on 68 fastballs thrown. It just so happens that when the batters did make contact with a pitch it went somewhere where a defender wasn't.
I was surprised to see Maddon pull Price that early. He had only thrown 93 pitches to that point. Yes, he had just allowed a home run to Andruw Jones and a single to Pierzynski, but I figured Maddon would let him work out of the situation himself. Instead he opted to go to his bullpen, which had been rested the past few days thanks to strong outings from Garza and Niemann. The game was still within two runs at that point and I'm guessing Maddon felt that bringing in Balfour for two innings gave the team the best opportunity to keep it that way.
Speaking of Balfour, he was very impressive in pitching two perfect innings. It's very early, but so far he's looking more like the 2008 version of himself. The Rays are leaning on him more than usual with Howell sidelined and he's stepped up to the challenge thus far.
-The first two runs the White Sox scored could have easily been prevented with better defensive play from the Rays. Carlos Quentin was probably going to be gunned down at home in the first inning if the relay throw from Gabe Kapler hadn't skipped through the legs of Ben Zobrist AND Carlos Pena. If one of those two fields the ball cleanly they have an excellent shot of throwing out the runner. Another poor relay throw in the second inning cost the team a run as well. Alex Rios was trying to stretch a double into a triple and Jason Bartlett had him in his sights. If Bartlett had thrown the ball to the home plate side of the bag where Longoria's glove was positioned then Rios is likely tagged out. Instead, the ball was thrown directly at Rios which caused Longoria to lose sight of it and allowing the run to score. Unusual plays from the team. Don't expect to see them again.
-When Joe West first made his comments about the length of games between the Yankees and Red Sox I was in his corner. Those two teams do need to pick up the pace. Do you know which two pitchers do not need to pick up their pace? John Danks and David Price. Those two consistently have the ball in their hand ready to pitch seemingly as soon as they receive it from the catcher. Knowing that, Mr. West still felt the need to insert himself into a situation he was not needed. When Maddon was walking out of the dugout to take the ball from Price there was West, walking right behind Maddon. The two exchanged a few words before West made the call for Balfour to come in. That's the manager's job, not the umpire. The game was moving along at a quick pace. I agree with Mariano Rivera, West "should do his job." And his job is not to put his face into a place where it doesn't belong.
-If West wanted to speed up the game he could start by expanding his tiny strike zone. According to Pitch f/x there was a total of 12 pitches that were called balls that were inside the zone. Five for Price, seven for Danks.
Here is price's strikezone plot:
-With as well as Danks pitched, the Rays had many balls land just foul that would have made the game a whole lot closer. Namely Gabe Kapler's long fly ball to left field with one man on that landed about two feet foul. Oh well, I'll take a 9-1 road trip.