Rays conquered by Crimson Stockings, 3-1

This battle of the fiery lefties saw David Price trying to improve on his franchise-best 15 wins for the Tampa Bay Rays and Jon Lester trying to improve upon his second-half performance; Lester had gone 2-5 in the latter half of the season coming into Friday night’s game for the Boston Red Sox.

Price had a good start toward his goal, striking out lead-off batter Marco Scutaro and getting Darnell McDonald to fly out to right field. A home run by Victor Martinez and following single to Adrian Beltre put a bit of a damper on the inning but Price bounced back and struck out David Ortiz. Three-up three-down in the top of the second made it look like Price had recovered.

The Rays’ bats, in contrast, struggled to get going. With two men on base – Jason Bartlett after a walk and Carlos Pena as a hit batter – and just one out, Evan Longoria grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to blow a good, early opportunity in the first inning. Clearly that’s not a matter of masterful work by Lester. After a Kelly Shoppach strikeout, Matt Joyce walked in the bottom of the third inning, only to be cancelled out by B.J. Upton grounding into a 5-4-3 double play.

Ortiz doubled to lead off the fifth inning He was singled home by Jed Lowrie for Boston’s second run of the game. Clearly, clutch hitting was not on the Rays menu early in the outing. Actually, no kind of hitting showed up until the fourth inning. Bartlett reached on an error charged to the shortstop, followed by a single by Pena, moving JB to second. After Longoria struck out, both men advanced on a Lester wild pitch. He decided to double up on that pitch, bouncing one off Martinez’s catcher’s mask and allowing an unearned run scored by Bartlett.

So the score remained 2-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth inning, although not for lack of effort by the officiating crew. After Scutaro got aboard with an infield single, McDonald struck out. Scutaro had gotten a secondary lead and was thrown out on his way back to first base but was erroneously called safe. It should not have mattered, however, because McDonald had crossed over home plate when striking out swinging so Scutaro should have been gone on interference as well. Double fail. But Price pitched his way out of the subsequent threat when Martinez singled. Beltre flied to right and Ortiz lined to Rodriguez at second to end the inning.

I’m not going to bother checking, I’m just going to assume Friday was Jon Lester’s birthday. I can’t think of anything else to explain the strike zone home plate umpire Gary Darling was giving him, other than as a gift. He had been all over the place, including three wild pitches, prior to getting the benefit of some REEEEALLY close calls when Longoria “struck out” looking in the bottom of the sixth inning. If a pitcher has established dominance in the strike zone, I understand him getting those two calls. With the shit Lester had going on, I don’t see how Darling didn’t die laughing; instead he sent Longo to the dugout on two final strikes off the plate. And this was a game-changing at-bat, with two men on and only one out. Should have been a free pass; instead it was a free gift.

Speaking of free gifts, Price left a pitch up and over the plate for Martinez, giving him his second home run of the evening, in the top of the seventh.

Normally I’d just stick with the minor bitching about the officiating at home plate, but it got worse. Sun Sports – Fox Sports Florida’s Kevin Kennedy used the best word possible: “embarrassing.” To have a pitch below the knees, six inches off the plate, go as a punch-out pitch is nothing short of ridiculous. Darling didn’t call the game Friday night; he decided it. Instead of playing the role of arbiter, he was an active force. Post-game, Rays manager Joe Maddon did his typical tip of the cap to Lester, saying he was sharp. He wasn’t; Lester just took advantage of the horrific calling of balls and strikes. Price pitched much better, despite getting tagged for 10 hits and 3 runs, including the two homers. He also punched out eight men and walked none. Lester allowed the one unearned run and only two hits, issuing five free passes and 10 strikeouts. But we know how he got those strikeouts: putting it mid-calf, over the chalk of the opposite batter's box for a consistently called strike. Why would you give a man a pitch to hit if you’re getting that call? That explains the lack of hits.

However, Tampa Bay doesn’t get a free pass on this issue. The lack of hittable pitches doesn’t explain chasing ugly pitches down and away, ones that even this myopic blue shirt might have to think about.

A note to Martinez: keep an ice pack in the visiting dugout. You’re going to need it when you get plunked Saturday. If you think you can get away with that cocky, slow trot you pulled after your second homer, think again. It did not go unnoticed, so don’t be surprised if you get thrown at, you arrogant showboat dick.

I won’t be covering Saturday’s game, so unless one of these other slackers decides to write it up, you’ll have to go a day without a recap. Believe it or not, I do have a semblance of a life outside of ranting about America’s favorite pastime.

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