Saturday night’s game against the Texas Rangers was far from perfect for the Tampa Bay Rays. David Price had arguably his worst stuff in years, the hitters took until the third inning to figure out rookie Nick Martinez, and a Logan Forsythe baserunning miscue burned them in the seventh. What does it tell us that the Rays overcame all of that to win nonetheless?
It was a little scary watching Price pitch against Texas. Price touched 94 MPH just once all game, and five of his fastballs were clocked below 90 MPH. Despite the lesser velocity than we are used to, Price had difficulty commanding the pitch, causing him to rely on his cutter, changeup, and curveball as heavily as ever. It was on the cutter that the Rangers drilled three hits in the first inning, the last of which was a two-run double by Alex Rios. Three more hits in the second inning, two of which came on changeups, gave Texas a third run. Yunel Escobar drilled a solo home run off Nick Martinez in the bottom of the third, but Price gave that run back on a Shin-Soo Choo sac fly as the Rangers held a 4-1 lead. Finally in the fourth, Price got himself together, tossing three scoreless frames to end his outing. But this is not the David Price that Rays fans know and love, and we have to be hoping for more from him next time out.
What was the deal with Nick Martinez? The Rays managed a couple of hard hits in Martinez’s first big league inning, but it wound up being a 1-2-3 frame. James Loney doubled and Desmond Jennings singled in the second inning, but Martinez retired Matt Joyce and Jose Molina to escape the threat. Martinez was by no means dominating, and we saw some clear flaws, most notably several fastballs left up in the zone. For some inexplicable reason, the Rays simply could not take advantage. But Escobar’s homer put the Rays on the board, then Matt Joyce drilled a hanging changeup for a two-run shot to make it a 4-3 game.
The Rays wish they could have gotten more than 3 runs off Martinez in his 6 innings, but they were down just a run and primed to change that after he departed. After Matt Joyce singled to begin the inning against Jason Frasor, Logan Forsythe drilled a line drive to the gap and hustled for second base as Choo’s throw went towards third base. But a well-executed cutoff by Elvis Andrus led to Forsythe being cut down at second base, and that cost the Rays dearly as a pair of groundouts helped the Rangers escape with the lead. We know the Rays love aggressive play, but Forsythe tried to do too much and the Rays had to be shaking their heads.
Jake McGee and Brandon Gomes followed Price with a perfect inning each, but Rays fans had to wonder whether a one-run deficit would be as close as the Rays would get. The bottom of the eight, however, assuaged those concerns. The Rangers brought in lefty Neal Cotts even with Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, and Evan Longoria due up, all of whom would batting right-handed. Sure enough, Myers began the inning with a walk. A Zobrist bunt advanced Myers to second base, but it also took the bat out of Longoria’s hands as he was intentionally walked. Up came lefty-swinging James Loney to the plate, and Joe Maddon elected to leave him in. It worked to perfection. Cotts left a fastball up and on the outer part of the plate, and Loney drilled it to the left field wall for a double. Myers scored easily, and Longoria used an excellent jump on the ball to score right behind him as the Rays took a 5-4 lead. After a perfect inning from Grant Balfour for his first save since returning to Tampa Bay, the Rays’ 5-4 win was sealed.
Entering the game, all three of the Rays’ wins had been nearly flawless games that were not even close by the end. This is a very good Rays team, and they will experience plenty of those wins this season. But the difference between first place in the AL East and second or third is games like this and the Rays found a way to prevail. The Rays will hope to sweep the Rangers tomorrow at 1:40 PM as Alex Cobb takes on Yu Darvish.