David Price really wanted to finish what he started Friday night, and manager Joe Maddon was willing, on the right terms, to give him that chance.
But that all went away after a bizarre ninth-inning mix-up on a missed sign, and the Rays, after closer Grant Balfour walked the bases loaded, were happy to get away with a 2-1 interleague victory over the Reds.
"It wasn't one my best nights as far as executing the pitches," Balfour said. "I guess you'd have to say I executed when it counted."
Price was sharp from the start, and it looked for much of the night that the 2-0 lead via an Evan Longoria RBI single in the first and a massive third-inning homer by Matt Joyce, estimated at 452 feet, plus their usual dose of dazzling defense (Desmond Jennings, Ben Zobrist) was going to be enough for the Rays (6-5).
Price sensed the chance for what would have been his third complete-game shutout. He did what he could to stay in the game, throwing only 11 pitches in the seventh and six in the eighth, to push his total to 107.
"I definitely wanted to finish that game," he said.
Maddon agreed to let him try, though Price had to agree during his ninth-inning at-bat to not even swing, so as not to expend any extra energy.
"You're respecting David there also a little bit," Maddon said. "As he continues to become who he is, and is one of the best pitchers in major league baseball, you want to give him that opportunity. You don't want to get in the way of him becoming great. That's part of my logic in that moment."
Price got the first out of the ninth, striking out Brandon Phillips after a delay for a discussion and then a replay review on a potential hit-by-pitch. Then he faced Joey Votto, the dangerous left-handed hitter, and the batter Maddon really wanted the lefty Price to handle.
After a first-pitch strike, Price, who found Great American Ball Park to be a little dark, said he thought he saw catcher Jose Molina put down one finger for a fastball away. Molina actually had put down two, calling for a curve. Votto crushed it into the leftfield seats, making it a 2-1 game and ending Price's night, still impressive with four hits, 10 strikeouts and 85 strikes in 114 pitches.
"Obviously we didn't cross up Votto," Price said. "I was having trouble seeing the signs all night. That's my fault. Stupid."
Maddon then called for Balfour, and things got interesting from there.
Balfour, after getting one out, walked Jay Bruce. Then he walked Todd Frazier to put the winning run on base. Then he threw a wild pitch that moved the runners up. Then he walked Devin Mesoraco to load the bases.
And then he struck out pinch-hitter Brayan Pena to end it.
Balfour and Molina were having obvious issues getting together. And Maddon said he thought Balfour needed to throw his fastball more.
"He was a little bit too careful and threw too many breaking balls," Maddon said.
Bottom line, Balfour said afterward, the Rays won.
"I usually don't walk three guys in a row like that; it's something to move on to the next day," he said. "I know I'm better than that."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.
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The 150 club
Among active pitchers with at least 150 starts, Rays left-hander David Price is the winningest:
David Price...........73-39... .652
Tim Hudson.......207-111... .649
Jered Weaver.....113-62.... .646