Daily Process: Rays Win Behind Price, Longoria

Sometime early in the game, I tweeted that David Price had shutout stuff tonight. He did, as his fastball packed enough heat for multiple Florida summers, but the shutout went away in the eighth inning, in large part thanks to a Drew Stubbs triple.

According to PITCHf/x data, Price threw 93 fastballs and recorded 16 whiffs—or over 17 percent. Early on, Price’s fastball command was impeccable. If you missed the game but can access a replay, watch Price’s first encounter with Joey Votto, particularly the putaway pitch—an extremely well placed heater low and away. That was the story all night, as Price threw nearly three-fourths of his fastballs for strikes.

I’ve written this before, but there are nights when Price just needs his fastball and some room, then it’s all over. The lights were dimming for Cincinnati, but Joe Maddon probably tried to eek one too many innings out of Price. Is that a total hindsight statement? Yes, of course it is, just like any analysis that critiques Maddon for whatever decision he makes when it comes to removing or keeping Price in the game. None of us—Maddon and Jim Hickey included—know when Price has outs left on the table or when he is a time bomb waiting to explode.

My preference is for Maddon to pull Price a batter too early rather than a batter too late. A tired Price should not be a better option than all of your fresh relievers. That line of thought would fall an inning later too, when Kyle Farnsworth left a pitch up and Jay Bruce banged it over the center field wall.

I never would have thought that I would be okay with Johnny Damon after 300-plus plate appearances and a .319 on-base percentage, but here we are. The Damon plate appearance tonight in the eighth played out just like original Damon. Impossible looking circumstances, an ugly swing earlier in the at-bat, and a hopeless looking blooper heading towards an outfield that had caught just about everything on the night (except for Damon’s home run earlier in the game). Naturally, the ball landed—of course it did—and then a diving outfielder knocked the ball out of the fielding triangle, allowing Sam Fuld to score the go-ahead run from first.

Evan Longoria hit the game-winning home run, and that’s good because it should cease one of the worst nitpickings in recent memory. Longoria can hit at home, he actually had a higher OPS at the Trop last season than on the road. You know why the Rays offense might play worse at home? Possibly because the Trop is a pitcher’s park, while the Rays play nearly half their road games at the other American League East parks—all of which are more friendly to offenses. And if you’re using the 2011 numbers alone to suggest Longoria has something wrong with him when at home, then you’re effectively placing more weight on 90-something plate appearances than the 900 others throughout his career. Stop, please, stop doing that.

If there is one player in the history of the franchise who should be given a hall pass for the occasional misstep on the field, it’s Longoria. He is the greatest player to ever wear the uniform at the time he suited up, and has a legitimate shot at being the greatest player to wear the uni period. Better than Wade Boggs, better than Jose Canseco, better than Fred McGriff, and so on. Longoria is that good. Why in the world do you want bend over backward to find reasons to dislike him or pick at his game, why can’t we all just appreciate his talent with the acknowledgement that even the game’s greatest players—and Longoria is one in the flesh—will still record more outs than hits, and will still make some gaffes. Baseball isn’t easy, not for the best in the world, not for anyone.

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