Saturday, May 26, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Gary Shelton: Tampa Bay Rays fail to measure up to Red Sox

BOSTON — The death knell, or the closest thing to it, came at 8:35 p.m. That was when the baseball, and perhaps the Rays' next-to-last breath with it, went screaming out of the park.

David Price stood on the mound, facing the outfield. Behind him was Joe Maddon, who had come to remove Price from the game. But Price didn't want to come out. He seethed, and Maddon let him blow off steam. Finally, Price turned, and Maddon took the ball, and Price stalked quickly toward the dugout.

Of all the bad sights in Fenway Park on Saturday night, of all the horrible images, this was the most grim.

He strode quickly, and his face was locked, and there was the feel that the Grim Reaper was walking with him. On a night that was all about Price, he was not good enough.

The Rays are in trouble now, trouble up to their eyebrows. For two straight nights, they have failed to measure up to the Boston Red Sox. For the second straight night, their pitching was not good enough, and their hitting was not timely enough, and their defense was not sturdy enough.

Boston 7, Tampa Bay 4.

And uh-oh.

The Rays now have to beat the Red Sox — who have scored 19 runs in two games — three times in a row to advance to the ALCS. In layman's terms, that's like climbing Mount Everest barefoot one time, then doing it again, then doing it again. The odds, as they say, are not good.

Think about it: The Rays have to sweep a team that has dominated them all year. Just like last week, they have to win three straight elimination games or go home. Watching the way the Sox mashed the best pitcher on the Rays on Saturday, that seems a little formidable, doesn't it?

In the end, perhaps the Rays were leaning too hard on Price. Since the final out of Friday's series opener, everyone in the clubhouse talked about Price as the great equalizer. Yes, the thinking was, the Red Sox beat up Matt Moore, but wait until they got a load of Price. Yeah, the Red Sox ran up the score on Friday, but Price will fix that on Saturday.

After all, Price had won the biggest game of his career earlier in the week against Texas. He had pitched with such will, with such fire, that everyone seemed sure he would do it again, and never mind that he had never won a playoff game.

Price didn't win this one either. Oh, he talked about tough luck, and Maddon said he had good stuff for the entire night. What he did not have was results. He gave up two home runs to David Ortiz. He gave up a triple to Stephen Drew. He gave up three doubles. He pitched into the eighth inning, and he shut out the Red Sox in only three of them.

And so, at the end of his night, he stood with his back to the plate — and to manager Joe Maddon — and he seethed.

"I wasn't annoyed," Price said. "I was just running everything through my mind. I didn't look to see whether it was Joe. I didn't look to see if it was (pitching coach Jim) Hickey coming out, because I didn't want to look over there. He makes the decisions for this team, hopefully for the best for this team."

For the record, that wasn't the way that Maddon told it.

"I was just thinking he was letting it all pour in," Maddon said, then corrected himself. "Nah, he wasn't letting it all pour in. He was upset. I know he did not want to come out of the game at that point, but I have to look at the bigger picture here. It was going to be hard to come back against (Koji) Uehara, and game five is several days from now. I didn't want him to throw 115, 120 pitches in a loss and have that impact his next start. I decided it was better to save some bullets for the next time."

No, it wasn't a great night for Price. Still, there was something about him leaving the game that drained the last of the Rays' energy. On this staff, there is Price and Alex Cobb, and after that, the young starters are gasping for air.

The thing about Price is that, after he pitches, he is still competing his way through interviews. There is a contrarian inside of Price, and sometimes, he will answer the same question two different ways. He can snap, and he can be short.

At one point, for instance, he was talking about the Red Sox hitters. "They had some broken bat singles, some broken bat doubles, some 305-foot fly balls go for doubles and triples. That's part of pitching in this park."

A bit later, Price said this: "Absolutely I'm disappointed. I don't know what my stat line was, but I know I gave up quite a few earned runs (seven). It stinks, especially in the postseason when you want to pitch your best. Tonight I wasn't very good. Honestly, I thought I was pretty good, but that team beat me."

So what now? Now, the Rays are saying the same familiar things that most teams in their situation say. That they're still alive. That they're going home. That they have hope.

And what else would you expect them to do? Surrender?

Yes, the odds look bleak. No, the Rays probably won't win. At this point, however, all they can do is play for tomorrow.

Perhaps, just perhaps, they can get Price back to the mound one more time.

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