All you needed to do was look at the pitching matchup to see that Friday night’s game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox was going to be something to behold. The contest certainly lived up to the hype.
The Red Sox jumped out to an early lead against David Price in the second inning as Shane Victorino took a hanging cutter from Price into the left field seats for a solo home run. With Jon Lester on the mound, it had to creep into the thoughts of Rays fans that Victorino’s blast just might be enough for Boston to win. It may have been earlier in the season, but not in this game. Finally in the fifth inning, Desmond Jennings drilled a two-run home run to give the Rays the lead. Even with Price on the mound, however, holding onto a one-run lead against the Red Sox proved to be too tough a task.
Price took the hill in the top of the sixth inning bringing the heat. After tossing five fastballs to Brock Holt before forcing him to ground out, Price chose the same pitch selection against Dustin Pedroia. However, Price finally missed up on his 10th consecutive fastball, and Pedroia drilled it for a double. Up came David Ortiz to the plate, and Price quickly fell behind 3-0 on three more fastballs. As do most pitchers, Price went to his fastball to get back in the count, and after a foul ball and a called strike, it was suddenly 3-2. But despite the fact that Price had shown an effective cutter down and way to lefties several times in the game, he was determined to retire Ortiz on the fastball and continued to throw it. On the seventh straight fastball of the at-bat and the 17th straight overall, Ortiz got a pitch he could handle and drilled it for a game-tying RBI single. The Red Sox were not done.
Boston got a lucky break with two outs as Jonny Gomes‘ popup fell in between Logan Forsythe at second base and Ben Zobrist in right field for a single. One batter later, Shane Victorino beat Price for the second time, ironically enough on a changeup. Price finally saw it fit to go away from his fastball, tossing what would go down as his second and final non-fastball of his 24 pitches in the inning, and Victorino smacked it for a go-ahead single. It is with the fastball that Price so often lives and dies, but just as dangerous can be when Price loses confidence in the pitch and relies a little too heavily on his good, but not great secondary pitches. There is a fine line that Price toes every single start in his pitch usage, and in this game, he went over it a little bit too far. However, his 8 innings allowing 3 runs on 8 hits (admittedly still a strong outing) proved to be enough when his offense rallied for him in the seventh inning.
The Rays really only got to Jon Lester once, in the fifth inning when Desmond Jennings drilled his home run. That inning wound up being just as important, though, in regards to Lester’s pitch count. The Red Sox’ ace lefty was forced to throw 37 pitches in the frame, and even though he threw just 12 pitches in the sixth inning, his 110 pitches total made Red Sox manager John Farrell decide to pull him. As it turns out, that was the best thing that could have happened to the Rays offense. Andrew Miller hit Jose Molina with a pitch and then struck out Logan Forsythe before making way for Junichi Tazawa. Tazawa entered the game with a 2.52 ERA and a 41-8 strikeout to walk ratio in 39.1 innings pitched, but the Rays had his number on Friday night.
Desmond Jennings drew walk number nine for Tazawa on the season before Ben Zobrist went to the opposite field for his fourth hit of the game to tie the contest at 3. Zobrist gets the credit for his clutch hit, but Jonny Gomes made his second misplay of the game in left field on the play, failing to come up with the ball when he aggressively charged in, allowing pinch-runner Cole Figueroa to score easily and Jennings to move to third base. Gomes’ first mistake–a Sean Rodriguez liner in the second inning that he should have caught but instead let drop for a double–wound up not making a difference. His second miscue made an impact immediately as the Rays had Brandon Guyer square for a safety squeeze play and disrupted Tazawa enough that Guyer eventually walked. That brought up Evan Longoria, at once the player Rays fans would dream of having up in that spot and the last man they wanted to see.
Evan Longoria has not been Evan Longoria for a long time now, and his at-bat against Tazawa began in all too familiar fashion. He swung and missed on a splitter by Tazawa that wound up well inside before taking a fastball on the outside corner for a strike. Longoria was down 0-2 in the count and seemed set to disappoint everyone again. But then the at-bat started shifting. Longoria fouled off a tough splitter before laying off a breaking ball down. He took a fastball up and away for ball three and then got a good piece of another splitter down. Then Tazawa hung a breaking ball up in the zone, and Longoria destroyed it for a bases clearing, three-run double to give the Rays a 6-3 lead. It was exactly the type of hit that Evan Longoria is known for delivering, and the Rays hope that it will be the hit that gets him back on track.
Jake McGee allowed a run in the ninth, but recovered for his 10th save as the Rays beat Boston by a 6-4 final score. Jeremy Hellickson will return to the big leagues to take on John Lackey as the Rays host the Red Sox in at 7:10 PM on Saturday.