Tampa Bay Rays
Rays rally late to beat Rangers, Lee
ST. PETERSBURG - The marquee pitchers' duel between the Tampa Bay Rays' David Price and Texas Rangers' Cliff Lee on Monday night at Tropicana Field came as advertised. And then it morphed into something quite different and wound up, from the Rays' perspective, as a game more memorable. After the American League West's top team made hay against Tampa Bay's bullpen, the Rays broke through with four runs against Lee in the eighth inning to take the opening game of the three-game series between potential playoff foes, 6-4. In the process, the Rays moved back into a tie for first place in the AL East with the New York Yankees, who lost 3-1 to the Detroit Tigers."Today was a huge moral victory, I think, for us," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. "Cliff was cruising the first seven innings, and for us to put up a four-spot against him was more of a moral boost and victory for us than anything." The Rays beat Lee (10-6) for the third time in three games this year (twice when he was with Seattle) and eventually got to the 2008 Cy Young winner who had looked unbeatable early on. Lee retired the first 11 batters he faced, five on strikeouts, and had 4-2 lead after seven innings. "He mixes (pitches) very well," Longoria said. "The fact he's able to throw every pitch for a strike to both sides of the plate makes him very deceptive. It was one of those days coming to the ballpark that we were going to have to grind it out the whole game." Price wasn't as efficient but he, too, was dominant through six innings. He received a standing ovation from a crowd of 18,319 that made as much noise as twice that many when he left with 2-0 lead in the seventh after allowing a leadoff double to Bengie Molina and walking David Murphy. Chad Qualls came on and walked Brandon Boggs, who only wanted to bunt to move the runners over. With the bases loaded, pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland hit into a double play and Molina scored. Elvis Andrus followed with an RBI single to plate Murphy and tie the game at 2-2. The Rangers kept the pressure on and took a 4-2 lead in the eighth. Joaquin Arias opened with a triple against Qualls, Randy Choate walked Josh Hamilton, and Arias scored on Vladimir Guerrero's double-play groundout against Dan Wheeler. With Wheeler still pitching, Molina hit an RBI single after Cantu tripled to the wall in right field. But the Rays answered. B.J. Upton's one-out blooper to right field fell in for a double, and Bartlett singled. Carl Crawford reached when second baseman Arias fielded his grounder and threw to second, where a hustling Bartlett beat the throw. Upton scored on that play to make it 4-3, and Longoria followed with an RBI single to tie the game. Carlos Pena, playing in his first game since coming off the disabled list, hit a slicing line-drive single to left center to drive in the go-ahead run, and Ben Zobrist singled to make it 6-4 and chase Lee. "When you beat the best pitcher in baseball in the eighth inning, when he's up, that is impactful among your group," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That's the kind of a situation I would like to think you gain some momentum from." Lance Cormier (4-3) got the win by getting the final out of the eighth. Rafael Soriano recorded his 34th save, most in the AL and second in the majors. Price didn't get a decision, but his work made the victory possible. The All-Star Game starter gave up five hits while striking out eight and walking five. He was charged with the two runs that scored after he left. "It was alright," Price said of his 109-pitch start. "I definitely wanted to go deeper into that game. But stuff happens sometimes." The Rays didn't get their first hit until Crawford punched a grounder through the left side with two out in the fourth. They took a 2-0 lead in the fifth after Pena became only the second player (and first left-handed hitter) this year to draw a leadoff walk against Lee. Sean Rodriguez followed with a single, and the runners advanced on Zobrist's bunt. Willy Aybar followed with a soft fly ball that found a spot in right center for a single, and both runners scored. Every time Price got into trouble, he bore down, found something extra and came up with the right pitch. That was particularly true in the sixth after Elvis Andrus walked, Hamilton singled with two out and Guerrero reached on a grounder to second baseman Rodriguez that took a weird bounce, hit Rodriguez on the chin and got trapped in his jersey. That brought up Cantu with the bases loaded. Price struck him out on a 98 mph fastball. "His fastball again was spectacular," Maddon said of Price. "Some breaking balls. It's just the couple of walks that do not permit him to get even deeper than that. Definitely he could have pitched further into that game."
Reporter Tony Fabrizio can be reached at (813) 259-7994.