ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.: The biggest game of the series was Wednesday night, and the Indians came from behind to win to ensure a split of the four-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Why was Wednesday’s game so important? Because David Price started for the Rays on Thursday, shrinking the odds of a Tribe victory to somewhere between slim and none. Price lived up to his reputation as one of the premier pitchers in the game, and the Rays prevailed 6-0.
“That’s why I felt yesterday’s win was so important,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “We didn’t want to come into the last game trying to tie the series against Price.”
Like Price, Ubaldo Jimenez also lived up to his reputation, but as one of the more unpredictable pitchers in the majors, giving up five runs on seven hits and five walks.
“I felt better than my last game,” said Jimenez, referring to a 2⅓-inning outing against the Blue Jays, when he gave up eight runs. “When I got to the mound, my mechanics were good, my breaking ball was working.”
Jimenez spent his 5⅔ innings on the mound getting in and out of trouble, but until the sixth, he gave up only one run — Luke Scott’s two-out homer in the third.
The sixth inning began as if it would be Jimenez’s most efficient, as he induced Jeff Keppinger to bounce to the shortstop and retired Hideki Matsui on a ground ball to the first baseman. But Jimenez hit Desmond Jennings with a pitch, and that started the trouble.
The pitch also struck plate umpire C.B. Bucknor in the throat. He was forced to take three or four minutes to regain his composure and let the pain subside. After play resumed, Jimenez (8-9, 5.24 ERA) didn’t retire another batter.
Jose Molina singled and Sean Rodriguez walked to load the bases. But remember, there were two out. All Jimenez had to do was focus on the next batter. However, B.J. Upton, who likes to swing early in the count, hit a slashing drive just inside the third-base line that rolled into the left-field corner for a bases-clearing double.
Did the interruption in play caused by Bucknor being hit cause Jimenez to lose his focus?
“I asked him to give me a couple of pitches to warm up, so it was OK,” Jimenez said.
Acta didn’t think the pause in play had any ill effects on Jimenez.
“He just didn’t make pitches there,” Acta said. “It’s unfortunate, because until that point, he battled really well for us.”
Suddenly it was 4-0 and Jimenez was out of the game. In came novice left-hander Scott Barnes, who threw an 81 mile-per-hour change-up so far behind Carlos Pena that it skipped to the screen for a wild pitch that put Upton on third. Pena followed with an RBI single to score Upton with another run charged to Jimenez.
In his past two starts, Jimenez has given up 13 runs in eight innings. In the two starts before that, he allowed five runs in 13⅔ innings. But that’s the way this season has gone for him.
Price (13-4, 2.64 ERA) became the first pitcher in the majors to win 13 games, and the 13th wasn’t much of a struggle. In seven innings, he gave up two hits and three walks, striking out seven.
He did not give up a hit until Jose Lopez singled with one on and nobody out in the fifth. Lopez became the only Tribe runner to reach third off Price, getting there on a wild pitch. Price allowed only one other runner to get to second base.
“He throws a lot of strikes,” said Lopez, who had never faced Price before. “We wanted to swing at his first-pitch fastball, but we kept missing. We couldn’t hit it.”
In other words, it was just another day at the yard for Price, who lowered his career earned-run average against the Indians to 1.64 in seven starts. His record is 5-0.
“He just overpowered us,” Acta said. “The first four innings, we weren’t aggressive enough against him. A lot of guys had two strikes [when they did swing]. But that’s what he does to you.”
Besides being exceptionally talented, Price is left-handed, which makes him even more of a lethal weapon against the Tribe, which has a record of 10-19 when a lefty starts.
“Price is a tough guy,” Jimenez said. “He’s throwing 97, 98 with a good breaking ball. You know if you give up a run or two, it’s going to be very hard to beat him.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.