The Minnesota Twins had high expectations placed on them two seasons ago, when the organization moved to a new, gorgeous stadium, and signed catcher Joe Mauer to an absurd 8 year, $184 million dollar contract. Since then, the Twins have been towards the bottom of the AL Central, and haven't made the playoffs or even been reasonably close to the Wild Card spot. Tonight, the Rays bats proved that signing players to outrageous contracts does not mean you'll get the hardware come season's end. Going up against one of the frontrunners for AL Cy Young award didn't help their chances much, either.
David Price took the mound tonight having an amazing 14-4 record, which was accompanied by a sub-2.70 ERA and 146 strikeouts; these are the numbers that the Rays organization knows Price is capable of putting up season after season. The Twins sent Nick Blackburn to the mound tonight, and his numbers are anything but stellar: a 4-7 record and an ERA of 6.92 were his numbers prior to starting the game. One pitcher would continue their season's dominance, the other would simply spiral even further downward; it's safe to assume who.
Blackburn got roughed up from the very first inning (6 IP, 11 H, 4 ER), when BJ Upton and Matt Joyce hit back-to-back homers off him, jumping out to an early 3-0 lead.
Upton would later hit a no-doubter (432 feet) in the fifth inning, again off Blackburn, showcasing the power that has always been overshadowed by underperformance and laziness. His two homers were also reminiscent of his incredible home run tear he had during the 2008 ALCS against the Red Sox, where even the Green Monster couldn't contain his seemingly effortless power. Again though, inconsistency has been the word that most accurrately describes Upton's turbulent career, but tonight's display of power gives Rays fans hope.
David Price, on the other hand, was amazing once more: 7 innings pitched and 7 hits, but his ability to stay calm with runners on base/in scoring position only lead to 2 earned runs. He also minimized the walks (and has done so all season) to just two, further proving that he has evolved from being "a thrower" to a pitcher. His only blemish on an otherwise fantastic outing was the the solo homer he gave up to Brian Dozier in the fifth inning. Apart from that, Price was practically untouchable.
With Price's great outing, Joel Peralta only needed to play setup-man in the 8th (had a 1-2-3 inning), handing the ball to this season's steal of a player, closer Fernando Rodney. Rodney also went 1-2-3 en route to his 35th save of the season, which leads all major-league closers (Joel Hanrahan and Jim Johnson both have 33, tied for second). Rodney's lights-out 9th inning pitching and Price's Cy Young type season are the two bright spots in the organization, and fans know they can at least count on those two pitchers if all else fails.
Notable stats from tonight's game:
D. Price (W,15-4): 7 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO
BJ Upton: 2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI
M. Joyce: 1-4, R, HR, RBI
B. Zobrist: 3-4
Rays News and Notes:
- Fernando Rodney broke the franchise record (previously held by both Roberto Hernandez and Rafael Soriano) by converting his 20th consecutive save last night.
- After a sloppy first half of the season defensively, the Rays have really turned it around on the field. They tied a team record last night with their 10th straight errorless game. After committing the second-most errors in the majors pre-All-Star break, the Rays have made the fewest post-break.
- Ben Zobrist started at shortstop for his third straight game, and looked pretty comfortable. Hopefully this could be the solution to the Rays' shortstop issues.
- Matt Joyce extended his hitting streak to 10 games.
- Luke Scott (oblique) went 0-4 with three strikeouts in his first minor league rehab game Saturday with Class A+ Charlotte. He'll make another rehab start today and will be re-evaluated Monday.
- The Rays go for their second straight sweep this afternoon. James Shields (10-7, 4.08) will take the mound against impressive rookie Scott Diamond (10-5, 2.91); first pitch at 2:10 ET.