The bottom line: The Rangers decided to pitch around Evan Longoria, and James Loney made them pay. Thus, the Rays could well benefit from future doubts about whether to pitch to Longoria or the hitter behind him, which could create potential RBI opportunities for Longoria.
Texas took a 4-3 lead into the eighth when Wil Myers drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on Ben Zobrist's sacrifice bunt. Rangers lefty Neal Cotts then intentionally walked Longoria to pitch to the left-handed-hitting Loney.
Longoria "is the one guy in that lineup we weren't going to let beat us," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "He's the one guy in that lineup that always comes up big for them."
Still, the call had to be tougher for Washington than face value. Cotts held righties to a .154 average in 2013 while lefties hit .204 against him. And Loney had doubled and walked twice while Longoria was hitless in three at-bats.
"The way that Cotts pitches, it's almost the Mariano Rivera effect, he can be more difficult on the opposite side because that cutter bores in so much," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I really felt good about James there, honestly."
Then again, Maddon couldn't fault Washington for choosing the path he did.
"Longo has done some pretty good work. He's done some good work against these guys," Maddon said. "You can't fault Wash for taking that chance right there. Loney could just as easily hit the ball on the ground right there.
"The way Cotts is, and the kind of pitcher that he is, there's no specific advantage right- or left-handed, except he was pitching around our best hitter. Which I totally get."
Loney admitted to being a little surprised by the move.
"I was actually," Loney said. "They had a one-run lead. ... People like to do lefty-righty thing. But we're all individuals. I like when people do that."
Loney drove a 2-2 fastball over the head of Rangers left-fielder Shin-Soo Choo, and both runners scooted around the bases to give the Rays a one-run lead.
"I felt good with Cotts vs. Loney," Washington said. "I was hoping for a ground ball and a double play. We just didn't get it."
Cotts lamented how the inning began rather than what happened later.
"That's the big thing about that inning," Cotts said. "I had the leadoff guy down, and I let him go. I gave him a free pass and you can't do that."
Closer Grant Balfour held the lead in the ninth to pick up his first save since returning to the Rays. Brandon Gomes got the win after pitching a scoreless eighth, one of three scoreless frames posted by the bullpen.
David Price started for the Rays, though there were doubts that he would start since he had been fighting flu-like symptoms. And the Rays ace looked a little sluggish in the beginning when Texas scored two in the first on an Alex Rios double with two outs, and they pushed the lead to 3-0 in the second when Elvis Andrus singled home Josh Wilson.
Yunel Escobar, who agreed to a contract extension that will guarantee him $13 million over the next two seasons, homered in his first at-bat with his new deal in place when he sent a 1-1 cutter from Nick Martinez into the left-field stands to cut the lead to 3-1.
Texas added to the lead in the fourth when Robinson Chirinos scored on Choo's sacrifice fly to make it 4-1 Rangers.
Matt Joyce answered for the Rays in the bottom of the fourth when he homered down the right-field line with Loney aboard to cut the lead to 4-3.
Price did not appear to have his best stuff, but gutted it out through six innings, allowing four runs on nine hits while striking out six. Maddon praised Price's effort.
"I want you to know David really fought through a very difficult night," Maddon said. He was sick as a dog last night. Pretty high fever, got through it, came out today and went out there and gave us six innings. Truly, I don't even know how he did it because he was that bad yesterday, but no walks, six punchouts. Understand, he performed very well for us today, and then the bullpen has been outstanding. They picked it up, so kudos to David."