After finishing the regular season with the AL's best record, the Rays now find themselves down 1-0 and in a situation where they must win three of the next four games in order to advance to the AL Championship Series. Game 2 is here at 2:30 p.m. ET on Thursday before the series shifts to Texas.
Price started for the Rays and Lee for the Rangers, or two of the AL's top left-handers, but while Lee negotiated an early bump in the road, Price did not and came away the loser.
"It's very frustrating," Price said. "I know I need to come out and throw better than that, no matter if it's a postseason game or just any other game. Going up against a guy like Cliff Lee and a team like the Rangers, you have to throw better than that to give us a better chance, and hopefully I'll get another shot at throwing again this series."
Lee's test came in the first after the Rays loaded the bases with one out via singles by Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria. Carlos Pena then stepped to the plate and took a pitch that appeared to move the count to 3-1. Unfortunately for Pena and the Rays, home-plate umpire Tim Welke ruled that the ball had nicked Pena's bat for strike two.
Pena exchanged a few words with Welke, as did Rays manager Joe Maddon, to no avail.
"The ball nicked my hand, actually hit me in the hand," Pena said. "It didn't crush me on the hand, so it's not like I'm going to start hopping up and down like it did. But it did get me on the hand.
"And I turned around and told [Welke] immediately, 'This ball hit me in the hand.' And he said, 'foul ball,' so [it's] one of those things that worked against us. If I wouldn't have said anything, he probably would have called it a ball."
Pena eventually struck out looking. Lee then struck out Rocco Baldelli swinging to end the inning.
Lee allowed a double to Ben Zobrist to start the second, then he ran away and hid, seemingly finding more confidence with each out. After Zobrist's double, Lee retired 12 consecutive hitters until B.J. Upton reached base on an error by Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus to start the sixth.
"When he gets on a roll, it's pretty tough to stop him," Bartlett said. "If we could just scratch one across in that first inning, just to get on the board, that would have helped a lot. But we didn't."
Bartlett pointed out that after the first time through the order, Lee became tougher.
"At the beginning of the game, he was mainly fastball, just spotting it up," Bartlett said. "And as he got on a roll, he started throwing that curveball in there. That's when he gets tough when he uses all of his pitches. Your approach has to change."
Lee left after seven innings, having allowed one run on five hits while striking out 10. Zobrist's home run with one out in the seventh proved to be the only blemish the Rays could muster against Lee's line.
While Lee stared down trouble and came away unscathed, Price was not wearing Teflon this afternoon. The Rangers capitalized against the Rays left-hander in the second when Ian Kinsler singled to start the inning. Jeff Francoeur followed with a double to deep center field that scored Kinsler. Bengie Molina then dropped a single into right field to drive home Francoeur, and the Rangers had a quick 2-0 lead.
Nelson Cruz re-routed a 3-0 Price fastball for a 438-foot blast that landed on top of the Batter's Eye restaurant in the third.
"They gave me the green light, you know, so I was looking for a pitch right down the middle, and that's what I got," Cruz said. "I hit it pretty well. I was hoping he'd throw me that pitch right there where I was looking for it, so I got a pitch I wanted and I swung."
Molina added a 363-foot blast in the fourth that landed in the left-field stands to put the Rangers up, 4-0.
Josh Hamilton led off the Rangers' fifth and reached base on second baseman Sean Rodriguez's throwing error -- the Rays' second error of the game. Hamilton stole second, then scored on Vladimir Guerrero's double off the center-field wall to put Texas up, 5-0.
"I wasn't at my best today, and it's tough to swallow," Price said. "That was not a nerve-racking game for me. I felt good, I felt in control. I just didn't have it today."
On the afternoon, Price allowed five runs -- four earned -- on nine hits while striking out eight in 6 2/3 innings to take his first postseason loss in six appearances, which, until Wednesday, had all been in relief.
Price "was real good," said catcher Kelly Shoppach when asked if the lefty seemed a little uptight about the moment. "Same things he's been doing -- seemed like he was having a good time like he's been doing. He just didn't command his fastball very well early on.
"Let's be honest. It's not like they knocked the cover off the ball. Obviously, Cruz and Molina had some pretty good hits. He just wasn't quite as sharp early in the game. As the game went on, he seemed to get a little better command of his fastball."
Price is not scheduled to pitch again until Game 5, if the Rays can indeed stretch the series to a Game 5, which prompted immediate speculation about whether Tampa Bay would bring him back early for Game 4, Sunday in Arlington, rather than use Wade Davis.
"That's a question for Maddon," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "But I'd have to say it's doubtful [Price will start Game 4]."
Since division play began in 1995, when the home team loses Game 1, it is 7-20 in the series, so the Rays are in an immediate hole. But nowhere inside the clubhouse did there appear to be any sense of panic, though Longoria did suggest that the Rays were not as loose as usual on Wednesday.
"This team, we're so good when we're loose playing the game," Longoria said. "I think we were just a little bit tight today."
When reminded about home teams being behind after one game in a division series, Maddon hearkened back to his Angels days when he served as Mike Scioscia's bench coach.
"I look into history a bit there in 2002," Maddon said. "I was a member of the [Angels] that lost the first game of each series and won a World Series.
"We lost the first game to the Yankees, first game to the Twins and first game to the Giants and celebrated at the end of that year, so I've had that in my brief history. It is a short series. You've got to come back and play well tomorrow."