So often, we bemoan the chance not taken. When a quality opposing pitcher struggles for an inning or two at the beginning of the game, perhaps loads the bases, but then manages to slip out of the jam, we fans are incensed, either by the passivity of watching that 3-2 fastball fly over the plate or by the dumb aggression of popping up the first pitch after the previous two batters have walked. Once he wriggles off the hook, it always seems like a good pitchers settles in, makes some adjustments, finds his release point, and mows the Rays down. Well, Jeff Keppinger made sure that didn't happen.
In the second inning, the heart of the Rays order put Clay Buchholz on the ropes. Buchholz went 3-0 to Evan Longoria, then brought the count full, but finally walked him. He was more direct against Luke Scott, walking him on four pitches. Now, with Jeff Keppinger batting against a righty, and Buchholz struggling with his command, some would say that Kepp should be taking. Luckily for the Rays, Keppinger disagrees. The first pitch he saw was a fastball right down the middle, and he crushed it Over The Monster for a three run homer.
The other side of the ball wasn't all that different. For the first three innings, Price was a bit shaky, and had to rely on the arms of his fielders. He got through the first without incident but also without dominating. Cody Ross started off the second inning against Price with a single, which was immediately followed by one of the hardest hit singles you’ll ever see, off the bat of Mauro Gomez. Gomez’s line drive clanged off a ladder midway up the Monster, and bounced straight down. A leaping Desmond Jennings barehanded the high bounce and fired to second to hold Ross at third and Gomez at first. The next batter, Ryan Lavarnway, hit a fly ball into shallow right field, but Matt Joyce was able to charge it well and deter any attempts to tag up. That brought Danny Valencia to the plate, who hit a line drive into the left center field alley to score Ross. B.J. Upton cut it off quickly, though, and threw a strike to Keppinger, who turned and fired to first, catching Valencia somewhat inexplicably off the bag. A groundball to third ended the inning.
The third inning didn’t go much differently for David Price. Pedro Ciriaco started things off by lining a single off a backdoor cutter that cut too much. Daniel Nava lined a single of his own off a low changeup. With Dustin Pedroia batting, the Red Sox seemingly tried a double steal, but Nava doubled back when he thought his jump wasn’t good enough, and that quick release from Jose Molina caught Ciriaco at third easily. It was a good thing, too, as Pedroia hit a double off the end of his bat that landed in front of a charging Matt Joyce (Nava chose not to test Joyce’s arm). Price awkwardly balked in the run, but then struck out Ross on a cutter to end the inning.
And that was Boston’s chance. Price spent the first three innings figuring out what was working for him today. By the fourth inning, he had. It was the curve. Here’s what came next:
Gomez strikeout swinging on a back foot curve. Lavarnway strikeout swinging on a curve in the dirt. Valencia groundout to second base on a backdoor curve. Lin groundout to third off a curve (coming off a whiff on the previous curve). Iglesias grounder up the middle off a fastball, deflected off Price’s glove and gathered by Zobrist. Ciriaco strikeout swinging on an outside changeup (after a whiff on the curve brought the count to 0-2). Nava strikeout looking on a backdoor curve. Pedroia fastball lined up the middle for a single. Ross double play grounder on a low curve. Gomez strikeout swinging on an outside changeup (set up by some outside curves). Lavarnway strikeout swinging on a high fastball (set up by a changeup and a curve). Valencia chopper to shortstop that Zobrist misplayed for an E6. Lin strikeout swinging on a fastball high and away. Iglesias strikeout swinging on a curve in the dirt. Ciriaco strikeout swinging on a curve down and away. Nava changeup lined into left field but an easy play for Jennings. Pedroia line drive to Ryan Roberts at second base off a curve. Ross fly ball into short left that required a fantastic diving catch from Jennings. Gomez strikeout on a fastball down and away to end the game.
- Although they didn't need it, the Rays tacked on some insurance runs in the sixth inning. Keppinger and Joyce both singled, and while Carlos Pena hit into the shift for what might have been a double play, Joyce was able to break up the rhythm of the turn just enough for Iglesias's throw to pull Buchholz off the bag at first and for Pena to slip in. Now with two outs, Molina hit a fly ball over Navas's head in left field that, with the help of a Boston bobble, scored two runs. Molina, while not running very fast, still managed to pull up lame at first base. Let's hope he's okay.
- Price and Shields became only the seventh pair of teammate pitchers to record more than 200 strikeouts each in two consecutive seasons
- Price had no three ball counts all game long.
- In TK's post-game interview, Price gave credit for the adjustment after the third inning to Molina, for properly identifying the Red Sox' approach. In Price's words, "He's a smart guy."