"He had the cutter, he threw strikes, got ahead early, he was just tough on me and [Carlos] Pena, lefties, period," Carl Crawford said. "He made his pitches. He was the Cliff Lee everybody is used to seeing and he got the job done tonight."
By losing the deciding game, the Rays saw their season end while the Rangers will advance to the AL Championship Series against the Yankees starting on Friday. Tampa Bay and Texas achieved a first as the road team won all of the games, making the series the first in Major League history in which the visiting team won every game.
Entering Tuesday night's game, Tampa Bay felt as though it had momentum on its side after taking Games 3 and 4 in Texas with a combined crowd of more than 100,000 watching. Few would have argued otherwise, for not only were the Rays headed home, but they also had their best pitcher starting in Price.
"You'd think we'd come back after that and win at home, but for some reason we just couldn't win at home," Crawford said. "But it's very disappointing to get that much momentum going and have the air knocked out of us today.
"It's definitely a disappointment, because everybody's mind was set on winning the World Series, and to lose in the first round is definitely disappointing for us because we didn't think we'd be out this early."
The Rangers got started early when Elvis Andrus opened the game with a single against Price. One out later, Andrus stole second base with Josh Hamilton up to bat. When the count reached 3-2 on Hamilton, Andrus broke for third and he continued running when Hamilton grounded to first. The Rays appeared to get caught sleeping as Andrus scored on the play to put Texas up 1-0.
Ben Zobrist had an RBI single in the third that tied the game, but the Rangers answered in the top of the fourth, when Nelson Cruz hit a two-out double to center field and then scored when Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach threw wild trying to throw out Cruz when he attempted to steal third.
"I got locked into [third baseman Evan Longoria] running and not the base," Shoppach said. "[I] tried to make a play and just didn't."
The Rays just couldn't seem to move through the fog that seemed to follow them throughout the game. Vladimir Guerrero drove a one-out single up the middle to get the Rangers started in the sixth. Cruz followed with an infield single to put runners at first and second for Ian Kinsler, who grounded to Carlos Pena at first. Pena threw to second for the force, but Price was late arriving to cover first.
Once Price caught the throw, he started to argue with umpire Mike DiMuro's safe call before turning his attention back to home. That instant of hesitation cost him as Guerrero alertly rounded third and scored to put the Rangers up 3-1.
"I could have gotten over there a little bit quicker," Price said. "I thought that ball was hit at the second baseman. Then I saw [Pena] had it and then I got over there -- and it was great atmosphere tonight, so I couldn't really hear anything, I couldn't hear anybody yelling at me, but that second one I probably could have controlled."
Kinsler blasted a two-run homer off Rafael Soriano in the ninth to round out the scoring for Texas.
In part, the Rays got beat by the type of baseball that typified their 2010 season.
"They just kind of brought our style of play to us," Crawford said.
Price still pitched well enough to win, allowing three runs on eight hits while striking out six in six innings, but instead took his second loss in the ALDS at the hands of Lee.
"David pitched fine," manager Joe Maddon said. "David was good. We made too many mistakes today. We made too many Spring Training mistakes, things that you cover from the very first day that ... came back and beat us tonight basically."
Lee totaled 21 strikeouts and no walks in the series while Price had 14 strikeouts with no walks. No pitchers in Major League history have totaled more strikeouts without allowing a walk in a postseason series than Lee and Price.
"We had a plan going into the game that we were going to be aggressive," Longoria said. "Swing early in the count and try to force his hand. He just kept making pitches. We just couldn't get anything going."
Lee lost three times in three tries against the Rays during the regular season. When asked about the difference during the ALDS, Lee pointed to the obvious when he said: "I didn't walk anybody.
"That was a huge part of it. Obviously a big part of their game is running the bases and being aggressive on the basepaths and making things happen with hit and runs and bunts and stuff like that. So by not walking anybody, it kind of eliminated some of that stuff."
So now the Rangers will host the Yankees and the final showdown between the Rays and their AL East rivals will not take place. While Tampa Bay will not be there, the fans at Tropicana Field seemed to gain a little satisfaction by passing on a message to Texas as it celebrated on the infield: "Beat the Yankees! Beat the Yankees!"