Tonight's Game 5 final game of the ALDS is also the battle of each teams bona fide aces. Oh, and by the way, according to MLB.com, tickets are still available.
This is the first time since the 2003 ALCS between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox when each teams aces were starting a final game of a postseason series. Pedro started that great game—a game I was at by the way—going up against Roger Clemens.
That game made Aaron Boone a hero.
Interestingly, the Red Sox had one of these games in the 2003 ALDS Game 5 when Pedro also faced off against Barry Zito.
In 2001, the Game 7 matchup also pitted Clemens who went up against Curt Schilling.
All three of those games turned out to be classics.
Before the massive changes in regards of starting pitchers, this Game 7-type matchup would happen quite often.
David Price won 19 games with a 2.72 ERA this season and is one of the leading candidates for the American League Cy Young Award.
Cliff Lee was acquired by the Rangers for this exact moment. I wrote back in July that the Rangers would be the team to beat based upon their lineup strength and the acquisition of Lee.
I felt that C.J. Wilson was pretty good, and the young Tommy Hunter would be improve enough to be tough to beat come October.
Well, two out of three ain't bad. Kudos there to a huge baseball fan. This was one of the great hits back when I was a young teen.
Anyway, both teams are in a position they would have paid dearly for back about a month ago.
In Game 1, Price was victimized by lack of command of his primary pitch, the fastball. It was all over the place, mostly right over the middle of the plate.
But never on the corners where he pinpointed control was mostly evident during the regular season. Not in regards to walks, but in the way hit attacked the edges.
Nor was his high fastball thrown out of the zone where hitters usually chase that pitch.
Most major league players can hit the mid-to-high 90's fastball, including Price's if it is over the plate. Price threw fastballs 80 percent of the time in Game 1, too many to a really good fastball hitting team.
To be effective tonight, Price has to get a feel for his fastball. If he can locate and get swings and misses plus some weakly hit balls, he can stay with that pitch at 80 percent. But if he is not locating, he must mix in his slider more often just to show that pitch.
Lee was good in Game 1, throwing his usual high percentage of strikes at 73 percent. And of course, he did not walk anybody.
Many of the times which Lee was hit hard over the season, lineups would approach him by attacking the first pitch strikes thrown their way. They knew that if if they got behind by "working the count" to such a control artist, they has no chance versus his array of changes and curve balls.
I wrote about this a few months ago, too. You can not always take pitches early against Lee.
You need to attack early on his first pitch fastball. But in Game 1, the Rays were more tentative then they were back on May 5 or August 16. During both games, the Rays scored their runs when they attacked Lee early in the count, especially when men in scoring position.
But in Game 1, the Rays were taking pitches early and it cost them, especially in that first inning when they left the bases loaded.
As I said earlier, both teams want their aces on the hill with a chance to win a postseason series.
But the big controversy was when Rays manager Joe Maddon entrusted the "crucial" Game 2 to his A.J. Burnett clone, the inconsistent James Shields.
First off, in a five-game series, heck even a seven-game series, ALL GAMES ARE CRUCIAL. It did not matter if Shields threw in Game 1, 2, 3 or 4.
The important thing is that Shields actually was pitching, so Game 2 was not an issue. It is funny that I read lots of "Matt Garza came through big" articles after he "saved" the Rays in Game 3.
Either way Maddon set up his top three rotation, and based upon how everyone pitched, the Rays were going to be down 1-2 after three games anyway. Doesn't matter if Garza pitches great in Game 2 or Game 3.
It was idiotic why there was so much talk about Maddon going with Shields in Game 2. They all were going to throw anyway, so why not have Garza available for a really crucial Game 3. The important game whether the series was even or the Rays were up two or down two.
Maddon threw Shields in Game 2 because he was a better than a full run at home this season than he was on the road. His HR and strikeout rates were also much better in the Trop than on the road.
Maddon also probably did not want to throw his two power guys in Price and Garza back-to-back but instead wanted to intercede his change-up, off speed guy. And don't even talk about the second-year guy Wade Davis. He was never going to get a start ahead of Shields.
Imagine if the fly ball pitcher Shields was to pitch in the homer haven, Ballpark at Arlington? We still might be in the middle of that third game.
I have also heard many whiners crying about how they want the Rays to win, so the Yankees do not have to face Lee.
Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it. The Rays have come back to win two games on the road and are a very formidable team. Just because Shields has not thrown well lately does not mean that he can't throw well against the Yankees.
He already has this year, at home in Tampa.
And either way, the other teams ace will not be able to throw three times in the ALCS, and will likely throw Games 3 and 7. And at that sequence, they might not even get the chance to make their second start.
So both managers want this spot in Game 5 with their aces on the mound.
Price needs to locate his fastball better, mix in his off speed stuff if he needs to and be left in the game if he is dominating. And the Rays must attack Lee early in the count to have a chance to win.
It has worked before and will work again tonight.