October 3, 2011
ALDS G3: David and The Five Longorias
Is it possible to write about Game 3 of a 1-1 series without describing it as pivotal? After watching the Rangers succumb to Matt Moore in Game 1, David Price complimented his young teammate by praising the opposing lineup. As part of Price’s comments, he suggested the Rangers lineup features “five Longorias”. Overzealous but not absurd according to the 2011 True Average figures compiled by Evan Longoria and the Rangers five best hitters (as seen below). Price’s quote may have centered around another precocious lefty in the Rays playoff rotation, but the quote was fresh enough to stand out throughout the Game 3 proceedings.
Whenever Price has come up in the Tampa Bay area lately, a discussion on his fortitude is sure to follow. Price’s two losses against the Rangers in last October’s ALDS undergird the narrative as the Rays lost both games by a 1-5 score. In Game 1, Price allowed two home runs and five runs in 6 2/3 innings pitched. He went six innings in Game 5 and allowed three runs, then watched from the dugout as the Rays season ended. Price’s recent regular season stretch failed to help his case either, particularly his four-inning outing against the Yankees on the season’s finale night that included allowing six runs and two home runs. Critics ignore that Price compiled 76 innings with a 2.96 earned run average over his final 12 regular season starts only to see the Rays go 6-6 in those games, and instead focus on his Twitter activity and his prankster antics in the dugout. Similar childish displays by Johnny Damon are merely the attributes of a good clubhouse leader.
Through five innings, Price held a 1-0 lead. In the sixth, the Rangers placed two runners on base with one out as Josh Hamilton strode to the plate. At this point, a flashback is necessary to set the scene. In the first inning of Game 5 last year, Hamilton hit a groundball to first with a runner on second, Price did his duty—covering the bag and receiving the throw—but did not spin around to hold the runner in time, instead the Rangers struck first blood on what appeared to be a brain cramp. Back to Game 3, it was like the memory of that play popped to Price’s mind as the play unfolded. He charged off the mound to field Hamilton’s batted ball then tapped first before spinning around to get a look at the lead runner. The half-inning ended on the next batter, and Price had a 1-0 lead through six innings.
Lady Luck is a fickle mistress who changes direction with every toss of her tresses. Price’s career has had its fair share of charm: he went first overall in the 2007 draft, recorded the final outs in the Rays ALCS victory, started the 2010 All-Star game, and received Cy Young votes. There have been difficult moments too, like the walk-off home run that ended his collegiate career, the ALDS games of 2010, and more significant than any baseball defeat, the loss of two dear friends within an 18-month span. Those losses remind you that baseball is but a game, a game that Price excels at, but a game nonetheless. Joe Maddon replied to a question about Price’s big game struggles by saying that the southpaw has some of the best makeup he has encountered from a player of his age, so there is no reason to think his personality would cause him to wilt under the pressure.
The truth is inconvenient on nights like these, as Price did not receive a win; rather he took another loss against those Rangers and their five Longorias. It was Mike Napoli, the fiercest of the Longorias, who took a fastball in the seventh inning and sent the baseball rocketing towards the stands. Price watched before wrenching his neck in displeasure. One more run would be charged to Price as he exited after 6 2/3 innings pitched as the Rays bullpen could not put the clamps on the Rangers offense. Another of the five Longorias, the aforementioned Hamilton, would single in two more runs and turn the game into a 4-1 affair before long. The Rays would scratch back into it, with the tying run sitting on third base in the eighth and first base in the ninth, but failed to extend the game or make up for those conceded runs by their 27th out on the night. Blame it on the bullpen, on the offense for not scoring against Colby Lewis and his 96 regular season FRA+, on Price for not being perfect against a good lineup, or a combination thereof.
Regardless the Game 3 goat, the Rays need to put it aside and win Game 4 tomorrow afternoon, otherwise the Rangers will drop the curtains on another baseball season in St. Petersburg.