“Just locating pitches, working ahead in the count,” Lee said. “When I got out of the first inning, I knew things were going to go well.”
For Tampa Bay, it was a continuation of an offensive funk that began two weeks ago. The Rays lost six of 10 games down the stretch — all against last-place teams — before clinching their second division title in three years on the last day of the season. They dropped five of six during part of the stretch, three by shutout.
Texas is in the postseason for first time since 1999 and its nine-game playoff losing streak had matched Minnesota and the Chicago Cubs for the longest active skid in the major leagues. All three of the Rangers‘ previous playoff series were against New York, with their only other postseason victory coming against the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1996.
“I thought the game was really kind of won or loss there in the first inning,” Texas pitching coach Mike Maddux said. “Both pitchers had their backs to the wall. Cliff got a couple big punchouts there. He gave up three hits in the first … no hard contacts. He battled up right there and put up a huge doughnut. That was a big zero. Then we come back and we score. Momentum kind of went our way and Clifford got better as he went along.”
Price played a key role in Tampa Bay’s surprising run to the World Series two years ago, coming out of the bullpen as a rookie with less than a month’s experience in the majors to get the final four outs against Boston in Game 7 of the AL championship series.
He won 19 games this season, had the AL’s third-lowest ERA of 2.73, and became the youngest pitcher to start an All-Star game since Dwight Gooden in 1988. He has never beaten the Rangers, going 0-2 with a 7.45 ERA — his highest against an AL opponent — in four regular-season starts.
The Rangers came out swinging.
Jeff Francoeur hit a run-scoring double and scored on Molina’s single in the second. Cruz added a 438-foot homer to straightaway center in the third. Molina connected in the fourth, and Vladimir Guerrero’s double off the center-field wall on a 3-0 pitch gave Lee a five-run cushion in the fifth.
Cruz’s homer also came on a 3-0 pitch.
“That’s probably the most aggressive somebody’s been against me as long as I can remember,” Price said.
Longoria returned to Tampa Bay’s lineup after missing the final 10 games of the regular season with a strained left quadriceps. He singled between shortstop and third base in the first to load the bases against Lee, who escaped the jam by striking out Carlos Pena and Rocco Baldelli.
Depending on which clubhouse you were in, Lee got some help from plate umpire Tim Welke to get out of the first, when Pena and Rays manager Joe Maddon argued that a 2-1 pitch hit Pena instead of glancing off the bat for a strike. That would have forced in a run for a 1-0 Tampa Bay lead.
“It definitely hit something. I could hear it from the mound,” Lee said. “When he did not start jumping around and didn’t want to go to first base, I had a pretty good feeling it hit the bat.”
The Rays didn’t have another baserunner until B.J. Upton hit a grounder to the left of second base that shortstop Elvis Andrus failed to handle cleanly for an error.View Entire Story
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