We knew it even before this game — the Red Sox will have their hands full.
This is one very good Tampa Bay team and the Red Sox, as good as they are, are going to have to be tremendous the rest of the way to keep up with them.
And oh yeah, the Rays also obtained perhaps the most desirable righty reliever on the market from the White Sox in Jesse Crain, who is still on the disabled list. But if he comes back strong in August, the Rays bullpen could be just as effective as their starting rotation.
What was reinforced from this playoff-atmosphere type 2-1 Red Sox loss Monday night at Fenway Park is that David Price is a stud among studs. If Rays manager Joe Maddon didn’t have a conscience and decided to keep Price in the game after he had struck out Jonny Gomes following a 39-minute rain delay in the eighth, there might not have been a controversial play at the plate that went Tampa Bay’s way — and the Rays would likely have breezed through the eighth.
That’s how dominating Price was for the second time in five days against Boston. He allowed two hits over 7⅓ innings with eight strikeouts and no walks.
Both teams, umpire Jerry Meals, and everyone who watched knew Daniel Nava was safe at the plate in the eighth inning. Everyone saw that Nava touched the plate before Jose Molina blocked it, but it produced an out call from Meals, who later admitted he blew the call.
It should have been 2-2. Maybe Boston would have gone on to win. Who knows?
The fact is Tampa Bay came here from New York, where it took two out of three, and capped off an 8-2 road trip against three AL East opponents with Monday night’s win. They are in first place again, and they deserve to be there. And now they go home to face Arizona and San Francisco. They started the road trip 2½ games back of Boston and ended it a half-game ahead.
This is one extremely talented team.
Maddon, however, was willing to lose the game to preserve his very special pitcher.
Why did he take out Price after he came back to strike out Gomes after falling behind, 3 and 0, after he made the decision to let him go back out there in the eighth? Red Sox hitters felt it was Christmas in July when Maddon brought in Joel Peralta, and then Fernando Rodney in the ninth.
It worked out for Maddon, but it almost didn’t.
“I almost kicked myself watching the first three or four pitches that he threw,” Maddon said after he allowed Price to come back out after the rain delay. “He came back and got the strikeout, I understand that, but I didn’t like it. That was my mistake to do that in the first place. I listen to our guys and our trainers, but I didn’t like sending him out there.
“This is July 29 and there’s so much baseball left to be played. That would be very difficult to jeopardize his personal career for the greed of one night. It wasn’t worth it. I was not comfortable with myself. I knew I did the wrong thing. They [Price’s warm-ups and his first three pitches] were up and high and I will take full responsibility for that. He should not have gone back out there.
“I talked to him on the bench and emotionally he felt he could have stayed in here. He’s coming off an injury [triceps strain] and he’s way too important to this franchise.”
The only blemish in Price’s outing was Brandon Snyder’s Pesky Pole homer in the sixth.
“John Pesky made himself present,” Maddon said. “A really bad moment that he showed up tonight. And I didn’t like that.”
On the play at the plate, Maddon said not only did Sam Fuld make a great throw from left field, but Molina took the right angle while blocking the plate. That could have fooled Meals into making an out call.
“That was textbook,” Maddon said. “That’s the type of stuff you try to teach. Regardless, safe or out, the way J-Mo did that was textbook.”
Maddon said he was thrilled with the 8-2 trip.
“I think we’re going to get some bounce from this,” he said. “[But] we have to make our own energy back home.
Price, who is now 5-1 with a 1.68 ERA since returning from the disabled list, retired 16 of 17 batters before Snyder’s homer. He’s now 10-5 with a 2.98 ERA against the Red Sox in 19 games. Boston really had no chance against him, even with Snyder’s fluky homer.
“It was untimely for the rain,” Price said. “I felt good. I stayed loose during the rain. I told Joe I felt good and he let me go out. I was little bit surprised when I came out, but that’s Joe making his decisions. He makes decisions like that and we came out on top.”
Price said about facing the Red Sox, “Absolutely every game against these guys feels like playoff baseball. They have the best [plate] approach.”
Price realized the first three pitches to Gomes weren’t good.
“I haven’t been 3-0 to anybody since I came back from the DL,” he said. “It was tough. This game is about winning, not about me. This was a huge win for us.”
Maddon was more than willing to take the gift and also chimed in — with the rest of Red Sox Nation — that there should be extended replay so these calls are right.
“I’m a big advocate for extended replay,” Maddon said. “Believe me, I am. We’ve had our share . . . not go our way too.”
It doesn’t appear the Rays are going to need too many gifts. They seem capable of winning frequently on their own, but they got two gifts Monday night – an unhittable Price, whom the Red Sox can’t solve, and Meals’s call.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.