A late August game between the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays would usually result in a discussion about playoff positioning. This year, however, the Tigers are slumping and the Rays are under .500.
Thursday's matchup was notable for featuring David Price's return to Tampa Bay. It was also one of the most memorable pitching performances of the year, because the 2012 American League Cy Young winner threw a complete-game one-hitter and lost, 1-0.
Tampa Bay's only hit was a triple by Brandon Guyer in the bottom of the first that scored Ben Zobrist, who reached on a throwing error from Detroit shortstop Eugenio Suarez. Rays starter Alex Cobb held the Tigers' anemic offense in check with just two hits allowed in seven innings.
Even though there wasn't a huge crowd at Tropicana Field, the people who were there did give Price a nice ovation when he took the mound for the first time, via MLB.com:
At the beginning of the highlight video from MLB.com (embedded below), the commentator says that Price has to keep "his emotions in check" since the adrenaline was likely going to be flowing at full tilt for his first game against his old team.
Based on the results, it's safe to say Price was able to block everything else out once the game started.
As he was so many times for the Rays, Price wound up being the hard-luck loser in a game where he was masterful. He struck out nine and only needed 100 pitches in his eight innings of work. Here is a closer look at the southpaw's line from the game:
|IP||H||R||ER||K-BB||Game Score||Pitches (Strikes)|
The first, and obvious, takeaway from Thursday's result involves the concept of pitcher wins and losses, as John Katzenstein of The Detroit News pointed out:
If anyone tries to tell you a pitcher's W-L record is important, just point to today's David Price performance.— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) August 21, 2014
Price retired the last 23 hitters he faced, struck out 39 percent of those hitters and pitched one more inning than the pitcher who got the win. If you want to make an argument for pitcher wins as a viable stat to judge performance, good luck.
After the game, Price told Bill Chastain of MLB.com that everything was working for him as well as it ever has:
"It's the least amount of hits I've ever given up," Price said. "We commanded the strike zone today for the most part, we were ahead and when we weren't ahead, we made pitches."
Joe Maddon, who has seen firsthand how dominant Price can be, was very complimentary toward his former ace and impressed with how his staff handled the low-scoring affair:
"Really lived up to the billing, or the advertising prior to the game," said Maddon. "It just happened we won. "... I talk about it all the time. In order to beat a good pitcher, you have to out-pitch him. In a very small and perverse way, we did."
Baseball writer Jason Collette's reaction on Twitter just before the game ended, with the Tigers trailing 1-0, was spot-on:
David Price isn't fair. Surgical today , and it may not be enough.— jasoncollette (@jasoncollette) August 21, 2014
Price's surgical precision has been the story of his 2014 season. He leads the league in innings pitched (201.1) and strikeouts (221) and is fourth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.62) behind Hisashi Iwakuma, Phil Hughes and Clayton Kershaw (h/t ESPN.com).
Alex Cobb told Chastain that Price's outing didn't surprise him in the least because of how easy the game always looks when he's on the mound:
Once you take a step back, you're removed from the game, you watch [Price] go back out there for the eighth and you just kind of laugh a little bit at the situation that's actually taking place.
That's who David is. He's one of the best and the performance you saw on the field is awesome, but he'll always be remembered in this clubhouse for being the best teammate who has ever worn a Rays uniform for us.
Despite those marvelous numbers, Price's win-loss record is just 12-9, again illustrating how ridiculous it is to use that as a barometer of success.
Price also joined an exclusive club with his one-hit loss, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info on Twitter:
In last 100 years, David Price joins Bob Feller (April 23, 1952) as the only pitchers to throw CG 1-hitter (with hit being a triple) & lose— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 21, 2014
Looking at things from the big-picture perspective for the Tigers, they couldn't be headed in a worse direction right now. Detroit is still 11 games over .500 at 68-57, but just 15-19 since the All-Star break.
On top of that, as baseball writer Rany Jazayerli noted on Twitter, the Royals, by virtue of having a day off, get some more breathing room atop the American League Central:
What kind of month has it been? The kind of month where David Price allows one runner in 8 innings, and the Royals' AL Central lead grows.— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) August 21, 2014
The Tigers need to find something that will provide a spark. Acquiring Price at the deadline was supposed to be that missing link, especially in light of Justin Verlander's struggles, but then Verlander and Anibal Sanchez got hurt.
In addition to lack of rotation depth, Detroit's offense hasn't been the same this season, scoring four runs or fewer 23 times in 34 games since the break. Miguel Cabrera is on pace for his fewest homers and lowest slugging percentage since his rookie season in 2003, and his .881 OPS is down nearly 200 points from last year (1.078).
With Price and Max Scherzer leading the rotation, Detroit is still dangerous in a postseason series. Thursday's game, though, proves that not even the best pitching performance will be enough considering the way this team is faltering right now.
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