David Price just can't catch a break. Despite working in to the ninth inning and pitching his most complete game of the season, the reigning Cy Young winner left Tropicana Field, Tuesday, still searching for his first victory of the year as the Tampa Bay Rays (9-11) fell 4-3 to the New York Yankees (11-8).
A lead-off single to Robinson Cano in the ninth inning of a tie ball game would be the end of Price's evening, who marched frustratedly off the mound, tipping his cap to the 17,644 Rays faithful. Fernando Rodney entered the game and struck out Vernon Wells but in the process allowed Cano to swipe second relatively easily. What followed was a series of questionable managing decisions and head-scratching umpiring.
Joe Maddon, as savvy a manager as they come, inexplicably elected to intentionally walk pinch-hitter Travis Hafner with firstbase open, preferring Rodney to face Lyle Overbay. Rodney got ahead of Overbay and appeared to get the strikeout on a beautiful changeup at the knees, at least two inches inside the strike zone. However, Rodney didn't get the call, moving the count to 3-2, and loaded the bases with the next pitch. For a moment it looked like disaster would be averted as James Loney made a dazzling sliding grab on a foul ball from the next batter, Chris Stewart, but the Rays two-out bad luck struck once more. Ichiro Suzuki, who singled and scored the tying run earlier in the eighth inning slapped a sharp line drive single to centerfield to put the Yankees ahead 4-2.
Evan Longoria would belt a homer to left-center field on the first pitch he saw from all-world closer Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth, but it would not be enough. The last remaining number 42 in baseball retired the next three batters with relative ease.
For Price, there are reasons to be pleased despite the loss. The left-hander worked primarily off his power fastball (60% of his pitches) and appeared to have regained some missing velocity that plagued many of the Rays starters early in the season (94 MPH avg). In addition, Price was effective with his cutter, generating 10 strikes and 2 whiffs with the offering and mixing in a sharp curveball and solid changeup. While the Yankees tallied eight hits off the southpaw, they were all singles and many of the ground-ball variety, a feeling akin to death by papercut. Price's first run of the game was the direct result of a strike-out wild pitch that reached base and scored two batters later on a couple of singles. Price also did not issue a walk and struck out five.
Yankees starter Phil Hughes appeared to be heading for a short outing after throwing over 30 pitches in the first inning and surrendering one run. An Evan Longoria strikeout with a man at third and one out stranded a potential second run but it looked as though the Rays had Hughes on the ropes. He would settle in nicely however, and manage to pitch deep into the game, finishing seven innings while allowing just two runs on six hits, while striking out six and walking two. After working great at bats in the first inning (Jennings, eight pitches, Longoria, 11), the Rays reverted to swinging early and a four-pitch fourth inning got Hughes pitch-count right back on track.
The Rays briefly took the lead in the bottom of the seventh inning after a Matt Joyce walk and a James Loney single brought Jose Molina to the plate against Hughes. Molina singled on a line drive to right field, plating Joyce and giving the Rays a 2-1 lead, but Loney was thrown out attempting to go first to third on the play. Maddon rushed out of the dugout to argue the call by the third-base Umpire but replay clearly showed it was the correct call as third baseman Jayson Nix applied the tag while blocking Loney's late slide with his foot. The Yankees would answer immediately, tying the game in the top of the eighth with a pair of singles from Suzuki and Nix and an RBI slow chopper from Brett Gardner.
Remarkably, The Rays are now 0-5 when their ace is on the mound, yet 9-6 with everyone else, a trend that is unlikely to continue. With the series now even at one a piece, the Rays will send out Alex Cobb (2-1, 2.53), Wednesday, to face age-defying Andy Pettitte (3-0, 2.01).