Ninth inning, tie game–who do you want on the mound, your ace or your closer? Joe Maddon was faced with precisely that dilemma on Tuesday, with David Price having thrown 99 pitches through 8+ innings and Fernando Rodney warming in the bullpen, and he chose his closer. Whether it was the right or wrong move at the time is up for debate, but it did not go well.
After Robinson Cano, who had singled off Price to begin the inning, stole second base, Rodney intentionally walked pinch-hitter Travis Hafner to bring Lyle Overbay to the plate. Back after getting ahead of Overbay 1-2, Rodney could not put Overbay away, eventually walking him on a 3-2 changeup that had no bite to load the bases. Rodney and the Rays had a brief reprieve after Chris Stewart popped out on a nice catch by James Loney in foul ground. However, Rodney paid dearly for all the baserunners just one pitch later as Ichiro Suzuki lined a go-ahead 2-run single in front of Desmond Jennings in centerfield to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead. Evan Longoria homered off Mariano Rivera to begin the 9th, but that’s all the Rays could manage as they fell to the Yankees by a 4-3 score. It was a great game and certainly a hard-fought one, but it was tough for the Rays to come away on the losing side.
David Price and Phil Hughes delivered fans with quite a pitchers’ duel. Early on, though, it didn’t seem that way. The Rays had Hughes on the ropes from the very start of the game as Desmond Jennings walked before Ryan Roberts doubled to put runners on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out. Ben Zobrist followed with a long flyball to centerfield for a sac fly to put the Rays up 1-0. But Hughes buckled down from there, striking out Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce to end the inning, and he cruised from there. Hughes tossed shutout ball for the next 5 innings before the Rays finally got to him again in the 7th, with Jose Molina delivering an unlikely go-ahead single. But that didn’t take the luster off a great outing from Hughes as he went 7 innings allowing 2 runs on 6 hits, striking out 6 while walking 2.
David Price breezed through the first 3 innings, throwing just 31 pitches. In the 4th inning, though, his own dominance cost him. Price began the inning by striking out Eduardo Nunez on a nasty curveball, but it was so dynamic that Jose Molina couldn’t catch it, leading to a wild pitch that allowed Nunez to reach. Robinson Cano and Vernon Wells followed with singles through the right side to tie the game at 1. From there, however, Price got right back into a groove, retiring the next 12 batters he faced taking him through 1 out in the 8th. Through 7 innings, Price had thrown just 79 pitches as he had been incredibly economical. Price wasn’t blowing by hitters in this game, striking out just 5 in 8+ innings of work, but he threw a ton of strikes, 71 of his 99 pitches to be exact, and didn’t walk a batter. He certainly had the pitch count to pitch the entire 9th inning and maybe even the 10th if he had pitched well and the game had gotten that far. But complicating Joe Maddon’s decision in the 9th was the events that took place in the 8th.
The Rays were clinging to a 2-1 lead in the 8th, but they had to feel confident with ace David Price on the mound. However, while the Yankees didn’t hit it hard against Price, they couldn’t have hit it in better spots. Ichiro came up with a single through the right side before Jayson Nix came up with a huge hit-and-run single that sent Ichiro to third base on a soft groundball placed perfectly between Evan Longoria at third base and Yunel Escobar at shortstop. The extra base taken by Ichiro made all the difference as Brett Gardner followed with a groundball to second base, and Ryan Roberts’ only play was at first base as the Yankees tied the game at 2 runs apiece.
Price was at 92 pitches through 8 innings and it was obvious that he would return to the mound to begin the 9th with a low pitch count, a tie game and obviously not a save situation, and a lefty batter, Robinson Cano coming to the plate. But Cano absolutely wore Price out with a 7-pitch at-bat to begin the inning, coming back from an 0-2 count to lace an opposite-field single to give the Yankees a great start to their 9th inning. Price was pitching well, but he appeared to be letting up, allowing the tying run in the 8th before failing to retire Cano. But Price’s state on the mound wasn’t the only factor. Batting next was the right-hand hitting Vernon Wells, who had gotten the RBI single off Price in the 4th, but after him it would be seemingly easy going for the lefty Price. The slumping Ben Francisco was due up after him with the Yankees’ best pinch-hitters all left-handed, and after him was lefty Lyle Overbay. However, with Price showing the early signs of coming apart even if his pitch count was fine and Wells having looked good against Price early in the game, Joe Maddon decided to overlook the batters scheduled to come up after Wells and put his trust in Fernando Rodney. If Rodney had pitched the way he’s capable of pitching, we wouldn’t be discussing whether Joe Maddon made the right move. But Rodney faltered and the result was a Rays defeat. Improbably, the Rays are now 0-5 in David Price’s starts. Price took the loss as Cano was the runner he allowed, but you certainly can’t blame him.
The Rays fall to 9-11 with the loss and hope to rebound on Wednesday for the series win with Alex Cobb taking the hill against Andy Pettitte. Baseball fans everywhere watching Tuesday’s game got themselves quite an exciting contest–but Rays fans were left stunned by Rodney’s implosion and hope for better results next time around.