Lee outlasted Price, pitching into the eighth inning, but that was long enough for the top of the Rays' lineup to mount a comeback effort in a four-run eighth and pull off a 6-4 win before 18,319 in Tropicana Field. With the win and New York's 3-1 loss to Detroit, Tampa Bay moved into a tie for first place in the American League East with the Yankees after spending the last 11 days in second.
Until the eighth, it seemed Lee had overcome a few mistakes and was on his way to another complete-game victory, but the Rays put together a series of infield singles and bloop hits that eventually led to a big victory in a potential playoff preview.
"It was one of those days we knew coming to the ballpark that we were going to have to grind out the whole game," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "We knew that probably in the eighth or in the ninth, it was still going to be [Lee] in there. I'm glad that we got to him.
"We try not to put too much emphasis on one game or the other, but today was a huge moral victory for us. Cliff was cruising pretty much the first seven innings. For us to put up a four-spot against him was, I think, more of a moral boost and a moral victory for us than anything."
B.J. Upton started things off with a one-out double that dropped between several Rangers in right field, and Jason Bartlett followed that up with an infield single that moved Upton to third. Carl Crawford then dribbled a grounder that Texas second baseman Joaquin Arias fielded, but he was late with his throw trying to force Bartlett out at second.
Upton was able to score on the play, cutting the lead to one and leading Rays manager Joe Maddon to call Bartlett's slide "the biggest event" that led to the Rays winning.
"To have the mental wherewithal to hustle on that play and beat the force was huge, and I can't state that enough," Maddon said. "That's what we're about. That's what I want us to be about, and he's been that ballplayer since he's been here."
Longoria tied it up with an RBI single to center field, bringing home Bartlett and allowing Crawford to speed over to third. Carlos Pena, in his first game back from the disabled list, drove in the go-ahead run with a single to center field off Lee that scored Crawford.
"It was just a lot of fun to be back around the guys, and to contribute just makes it that much better," Pena said. "He's such a great pitcher, and to be able to get to him and score some runs off him, it's obviously huge."
The Rays continued their big frame -- as well as their season-long trend of putting up runs in the eighth (94, the most of any inning) -- when Ben Zobrist singled home Longoria to make it 6-4. That run chased Lee from the game after the lefty threw 7 2/3 innings.
"It's not like they were driving the ball all over the ballpark," Lee said. "It was infield hits and little bloopers. They were just fighting, and that's why they're a good team. They never give up."
In a game billed as a marquee pitching matchup, Lee was unsurprisingly in control and dominant early on, as he threw 3 2/3 perfect innings before Crawford knocked a ground-ball single to left field for Tampa Bay's first hit. And while the Rays got the best of Lee later on, they also capitalized on a few uncharacteristic mistakes in the fifth to score the first two runs of the game.
Pena drew a walk in the fifth inning -- just Lee's 10th base on balls this year, the first given up to a left-handed hitter and only his second leadoff walk all season. Sean Rodriguez pounded a grounder through the left side to move Pena to second, and Zobrist's sacrifice bunt moved both runners over. Designated hitter Willy Aybar then reached out across the plate and tapped a 1-2 changeup into shallow right-center field, scoring Pena and Rodriguez.
"Willy's been working good at-bats for us," Maddon said. "It was huge to fudge it over the infielder's head right there, put it in the right spot. We needed something like that. We needed to be able to get that knock when the opportunity was there, because we have not been getting that knock."
Price, meanwhile, walked five batters to run up his pitch count to 109 after six innings and two batters. The Rangers finally got to Price in the top of the seventh, as Molina led off with a double off the left-field wall. Price then walked David Murphy, the last batter he faced before walking off to a standing ovation. Right-handed reliever Chad Qualls walked Brandon Boggs to load the bases and forced pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland into a 4-6-3 double play that still allowed Molina to come home.
Elvis Andrus drove in the second run of the inning, chopping a ball up the middle to score Murphy and tie the game at 2.
Texas took the lead in the top of the eighth. Joaquin Arias led off with a triple to center field off Qualls, and Randy Choate followed that up by walking Josh Hamilton before Arias scored the tiebreaking run when Dan Wheeler forced Vladimir Guerrero to ground into a 6-4-3 double play. Jorge Cantu then smacked a two-out triple over Zobrist's head in right field, and Molina made it 4-2 with a single off the left-field wall.
Price found himself in an unusual jam in the top of the sixth. After striking out Andres Blanco and Michael Young and walking Andrus, Hamilton and Guerrero loaded the bases with back-to-back singles. But Guerrero's single -- seemingly a routine ground ball to Rodriguez -- bounced off the second baseman's chest, leaving a bright red mark he showed off after the game, and inside his jersey, a bizarre play that Price bounced back from with an inning-ending strikeout of Cantu.
"When I first realized it was in there I said, 'Man, I really need to get this out,' Rodriguez said. "I was ready to rip my shirt off, I didn't even care, just to make sure I got it out. But I was able to reach in there and get it out."
Adam Berry is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less