Rangers' potent offense gets best of Rays
ARLINGTON -- The series between the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays is a classic confrontation -- baseball's highest-scoring offense against the American League's best pitching staff.
In keeping with this theme, Monday night's opener looked very much like the irresistible force (the Texas offense) vs. the immovable object (the Rays' pitching, in this case, their ace, David Price).
Score one for the irresistible force: Texas 6, Tampa Bay 5. In spite of everything we know about great pitching overcoming great hitting, great hitting will still clobber great pitching if the great pitching is having a mortal evening.
The thing about Price was that, over the last 10 weeks, he has been, well, unbeatable. He had not lost a game since June 13. His last 12 consecutive starts had been quality starts, although that statistic understates the case. He was 8-0 over those 12 starts with a 1.56 ERA. Since the All-Star break he had an ERA of 0.60.
For the season, Price was looking a lot like a very strong candidate for the AL Cy Young Award. Coming into Monday night he led the Majors with a 2.28 ERA and his 16-4 record tied him for the lead in victories.
Plus, Price has been a rare combinations of command and power. According to FanGraphs, he led the AL in average fastball velocity at 95.6 mph. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals has been just a tick faster at 95.7.
In any case, Price, a 19-game winner two seasons ago, is in the midst of the best year to date in an already impressive career. But the Rangers were more than just a bump in the road for Price. They became a full-fledged detour.
Price gave up six earned runs in four-plus innings against the Rangers. That is the same number of earned runs he gave up in his last six starts. Those six starts covered 44 innings.
Adrian Beltre was coming off the AL Player of the Week award for a stretch that included a three-homer game and another game in which he hit for the cycle. The last player to achieve both of these feats in the same week was Joe DiMaggio in 1948. Monday night Beltre started the new week with a performance that was not all that far away from that historic peak.
He started the Rangers' scoring with a home run leading off the second, added a two-run double in the third, and a run-scoring single in the fifth, before walking in the seventh.
"Adrian Beltre just wasn't going to let us lose this game," Rangers manager Ron Washington said.
Concentration was the key against, Price, Beltre said, "because with a pitcher like this you might get only one pitch to hit. You have to come in aggressive, looking for a good pitch to hit."
The Rangers were certainly aggressive against Price, going after fastballs over the plate early in the count.
"When he decided to throw his fastball over the plate we didn't miss it," Washington said. "He didn't get a chance to get to the other stuff."
This was a truly impressive performance by the Rangers' lineup, against a pitcher, who, as Michael Young said, "could be the Cy Young winner in our league." Price, who had been on a long roll, and whose considerable pitching worth cannot be disputed, was cuffed around by the Rangers lineup. But this offense, in the current era of declining offensive production, is averaging nearly 5.2 runs per game. When it get to a pitcher, there is nothing of the fluke involved.
If there were an immovable object Monday night it was the Rangers bullpen. Given a 6-5 lead after six innings when starter Derek Holland departed, a trio of Texas relievers retired the Rays without a whisper -- nine up, nine down, six strikeouts, one harmless fly hit out of the infield. Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams and closer Joe Nathan took turns silencing the Tampa Bay bats.
"We like to think that we have three closers right now," Young said. It certainly looked that way.
There are potential postseason ramifications to every game these two teams play now. Texas came in leading the American League West, with the AL's best record. Tampa Bay was in position for a Wild Card spot. And the regular season probably won't end the argument. These two clubs have met in Division Series the last two years, with the Rangers winning both times.
For this Monday night, the Rangers again had the upper hand, their offense seizing early opportunities when David Price was atypically making mistakes in the strike zone. The dominant pitching for the night was supplied by a trio of Rangers relievers doing spotless work. This combination, and the competition between two very good teams, made this a late-August classic.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.