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Lee, defense falter late in loss to Rays

Lee, defense falter late in loss to Rays

ST. PETERSBURG -- Monday's contest between the Rangers and the Rays had all the makings of something special with two of the American League's best pitchers squaring off in Cliff Lee and David Price.

Instead, it turned into something just plain weird.

Lee entered Monday having issued just nine walks in 161 1/3 innings with 137 strikeouts, and Price came in tied for the AL lead with 15 wins. Both pitchers were impressive enough. Price struck out eight and allowed two runs over six-plus innings, while Lee had 10 strikeouts with just one walk.

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While the 18,319 in attendance at Tropicana Field witnessed some strange plays by the home team -- namely a ground ball by Vladimir Guerrero that got stuck in the inside of Rays second baseman Sean Rodriquez's shirt and a double by Bengie Molina off the top of the wall that All-Star left fielder Carl Crawford jumped and misjudged by 15 feet -- it was a quirky eighth inning by Texas that spelled doom for Lee as the Rangers suffered a disappointing 6-4 defeat.

"It's just one of those things that happens sometimes," Lee said. "Against a team like that, when they get an opening, they take it."

Clinging to a 4-2 lead with one out in the eighth and an inning after chasing Price from the game, Lee saw B.J. Upton reach second on a ball that hovered high in the air between Rangers second baseman Joaquin Arias and right fielder Brandon Boggs before landing on the turf between the two newly recalled players.

"The popup opened the floodgates, for sure," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Joaquin should have got to it, no doubt about it."

Following an infield single to short by Jason Bartlett in which the ball hit off the edge of the inner part of the turf and bounded up to Elvis Andrus, Lee then fell victim to a run-producing grounder by Carl Crawford to Arias, whose throw to second base was late trying to get the forceout on Bartlett.

"He should have taken the out [at first base] right there," Washington said. "You don't try and get a double play with Crawford hitting the ball on a chop that slow. It's Baseball 101. We didn't do a good job of managing the situation right there."

Lee then gave up a hard-hit single up the middle to Evan Longoria that scored Bartlett, a liner into center by Carlos Pena that plated Crawford, and after striking out Sean Rodriguez, another RBI single to Ben Zobrist.

"Lee should have faced just four batters in that inning," Washington said. "I believe the only ball that was hit hard all night was the one Longoria hit and the one that shot up on Elvis."

While the mishaps were an open invitation for Lee to lay blame, the 31-year-old Cy Young Award winner exhibited class, both in protecting his teammate and in praising the opponent.

"I'm not going to pass judgment," said Lee, who tossed 75 strikes in his 98-pitch outing. "I throw pitches and try to locate pitches. That's all I can control. Nobody's out there trying to let them get on base. It was just a weird inning, and I'm not going to pass judgment on anyone."

As for the Rays, who have handed the southpaw three of his six losses this season and 12 of his 52 earned runs, Lee complimented them on their will to win.

"They're a good team," said Lee, who is 10-3 with a 2.48 ERA against all other teams this year. "The eighth inning is a perfect example. They scrapped away, scrapped through that inning, didn't give up. They hustled every chance they got. They didn't really drive the ball all over the ballpark -- infield hits, little bloopers -- but they kept fighting. That's why they're a good team. They never give up."

Lee was on the verge of cruising to his AL-leading eighth complete game this season after retiring the first 11 batters before Crawford's single in the fourth. With the one walk, Lee opens the 2010 campaign with 21 straight starts of six-plus innings and two or fewer walks, tied for the second-longest season-opening streak in the modern era since 1920 with the D-Backs' Curt Schilling in 2001 and two behind the Giants' Juan Marichal, who had 23 in 1968.

"We had a good duel going on out there between [Price] and Cliff Lee," Washington said. "I think the fans got their money's worth, except for that eighth inning that we put together."

Price battled through his 109-pitch outing, and the Rangers were unable to capitalize on several scoring opportunities. In the third, after David Murphy led off the inning with a double, both Boggs and Andres Blanco struck out before Murphy tried to score on Andrus' single to right, but he was easily thrown out at home by Zobrist.

In the sixth, Jorge Cantu struck out with the bases loaded to end the inning.

"We had some opportunities there, but that's why he's a quality pitcher," Washington said. "When quality pitchers get in trouble, they know how to get out of it. He got out of it. We got his pitch count up and he came back out in the seventh and he couldn't finish it. We battled back and we just couldn't hold onto it."

In the seventh, after Molina's leadoff double and a walk by Murphy chased Price, Boggs drew a walk off Rays reliever Chad Qualls to load the bases.

Mitch Moreland pinch-hit for Blanco but proceeded to ground into a double play, scoring Molina. Andrus followed with a run-scoring single to center to tie the game.

The Rangers took the lead in the eighth thanks to Arias, who was just recalled from Double-A Frisco after Nelson Cruz was placed on the disabled list before Monday's game. Arias entered the game as a replacement to Michael Young, who left the game due to stiffness in his neck, and promptly tripled off Qualls to start the inning and later scored on a double-play ball by Guerrero. Cantu then tripled off Rays reliever Dan Wheeler and scored on a single by Molina.

"We battled back, got a two-run lead, but things just fell apart," said Lee, who didn't last eight innings for the second consecutive game after working eight or more in 10 straight starts prior. "It was just a strange inning that did me in."

Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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