CINCINNATI -- How close did David Price come Friday night to throwing the third complete-game shutout of his career? One finger?
If Price had seen that catcher Jose Molina put down two fingers for a curveball to Joey Votto with one out in the ninth inning instead of seeing only one and throwing a fastball, maybe Votto doesn’t hit a solo home run and maybe Price gets to finish what he started.
As it were, Grant Balfour was called on to finish the job, which he did but not without loading the bases with three walks.
The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Cincinnati Reds 2-1 at Great American Ball Park for their first-ever win on the banks of the Ohio River.
Price “was really good. He was working everything,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He brought the curveball into the game the latter part of the game. Fastball velocity maybe not as great but a lot of moment and a lot of live.”
The Rays evened their record through the first four games on this nine-game road trip.
As with the three games in Kansas City, the Rays offense didn’t make enough noise to make anyone think it was the boys boppin’ as their T-shirts imply, but with the way Price pitched, those two runs were enough.
An RBI single in the first inning by Evan Longoria and a solo home run in the third by Matt Joyce was all the offense the Rays could muster off Johnny Cueto and two relievers.
Price, making the 150th start of his career, was strong from the start and even stronger as the game moved into the late innings.
He needed 11 pitches to retire the Reds in order in the seventh and only six to get through a perfect eighth inning. At that point, Price said he was thinking complete game.
“Whenever you get somewhat close, the last two or three innings you know how many pitches you’re at, you know how long Joe is going to allow you go,” he said.
Maddon allowed Price to hit for himself in the ninth inning – National League rules -- with instructions not to swing at a pitch. Price didn’t, and went down looking.
“I don’t want him getting tired getting on base should that happen,” Maddon said. “But nevertheless you got to put him back out there.”
Price struck out Brandon Phillips to start the inning then allowed a home run to Votto to end his chance at a shutout and a complete game.
“Jose called a curve ball on the 0-1 to Votto but I was having trouble seeing all night and I thought he called for fastball away,” Price said. “That stinks. It’s just one of those things. Obviously we didn’t cross up Votto. It would have been nice if we crossed up Votto.”
Said Maddon: “I was more concerned about Votto, So I wanted him to be able to pitch to Votto and he gets the punch on (Brandon) Phillips and Votto hits the homer. That’s how it works sometimes.”
Maddon said Price would have been finished after eight innings if he had a more stressful inning. But with the way he rolled through the seventh and eighth, Maddon said he felt confident in Price getting through the ninth inning providing he didn’t allow a base runner.
“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 all of 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.”
Balfour came in to protect the one-run lead. He struck out the first batter he faced then walked the next two. A wild pitch moved them up a base, and with first base open, Balfour pitched around Devin Mesorace.
“I wasn’t going to give in to him,” Balfour. “I was being smart. In all honesty, if there’s ever a good walk, I wasn’t too worried about. I knew I’d get the next guy and I struck him out and we came away with a win.”
Balfour said he was ready to take his chances with pinch-hitter Brayan Peña, who was coming off the bench cold.
Balfour threw his off-speed pitches more than his fastball, but used his fastball to get the two strikeouts.
“I played the odds. I rolled the dice there,” Balfour said. I’m still confident in myself no matter what.”