George Christian Pappas, ESPN Radio
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Rays got little sleep Monday night. They were on the wrong end of a dominant pitching performance by Colby Lewis and typical offensive production from a very good Texas Rangers lineup, dropping Game 3 of the American League Division Series in their own building, 4-3.
The Rays have had a must-win, playoff mentality since September, when they erased the Red Sox’ nine-game lead in the AL Wild Card and clinched a playoff spot on the final day of the regular season. But the situation could not be any more real than it is today.
“We have been playing this game for awhile. I know it is a little bit different in the sense if you don’t win, you go home, but we played those last six games at home here versus the Blue Jays and Yankees and felt we had to win all of them,” Maddon said.
“We lost one of those, and then we got ourselves into the playoffs.”
Facing elimination, Jeremy Hellickson gets the nod for Tampa Bay, and either content with the situation or very nonchalant.
"We've been in this situation before, tomorrow is nothing different," Hellickson said.
Hellickson was charged with the loss in his only appearance against the Rangers this year, despite having limited Texas to two runs over six innings. He’ll be matched by left-hander Matt Harrison (14-9, 3.39). Both will be making their first postseason starts.
5 Ian Kinsler 2B
1 Elvis Andrus SS
32 Josh Hamilton (L) CF
10 Michael Young DH
29 Adrian Beltre 3B
25 Mike Napoli C
17 Nelson Cruz RF
7 David Murphy (L) LF
18 Mitch Moreland (L) 1B
54 Matt Harrison (LHP; 14-9, 3.39 regular season)
8 Desmond Jennings LF
2 B.J. Upton CF
3 Evan Longoria 3B
18 Ben Zobrist (S) 2B
22 Johnny Damon (L) DH
10 Kelly Shoppach C
1 Sean Rodriguez SS
11 Casey Kotchman (L) 1B
20 Matt Joyce (L) RF
58 Jeremy Hellickson (RHP; 13-10, 2.95 regular season)
Breaking down Maddon’s decision to pitch Howell
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Texas Rangers just took the lead on Mike Napoli’s two-run shot and forced starter David Price out of Game 3. Brandon Gomes didn’t do much to help Price in relief, issuing walks to both batters he faced.
With the bases loaded and the league’s defending most valuable player, Josh Hamilton, coming to the plate, Joe Maddon turned to his bullpen once again.
Consider the potential batter-pitcher matchups, given the situation. The obvious choice is to exploit the matchup between a left-handed pitcher versus left-handed batter. Hamilton is a respectable career .279 hitter against southpaws (compared with a .323 clip against righties). His .260 average against lefties in the regular season fell short of that career mark.
The only left-handers in the pen are Jake McGee and J.P. Howell. Maddon went with Howell, who gave up a two-run single on the second pitch he saw, a slider, and padded the Rangers’ lead at 4-1.
“I want to make this clear, I don’t understand why everybody is piling on J.P right now, because we walked some guys to get to that particular position,” Maddon said.
That much is true. Brandon Gomes didn’t do much to help Price in relief or set up Howell to get out of the inning. He issued walks to both batters he faced.
“Before we begin this series, we felt really good about [Howell] on this team, and we still do. And particularly in that situation yesterday, that’s what he was on the team for. [I] really like him and his stuff versus Hamilton,” Maddon said.
But on the basis of evaluating his pitchers’ performances in 2011, it’s not clear why Maddon would throw Howell in that situation. The Rays could have put McGee in the game to face Hamilton; McGee has had as many chances to face lefties and held them to a .164 average, fanning 18. Left-handers hit Howell for a .219 average and struck out fewer times.
Matchup aside, what if Maddon put the ball in Joel Peralta’s hands? Albeit the fact that he’s a righty, Peralta has had the most work against left-handed hitting with the most success. In almost twice as many chances, Peralta held lefties to a .144 average and struck out 34 batters. That’s not to say that Hamilton could not have achieved the same result in a seemingly more favorable hitting scenario, but Peralta would have been equally capable of entering the ball game and stopping the Rays’ bleeding.
But Maddon’s judgment call was to stick with Howell, and it didn’t work out as planned.
“It is unfortunate that he put a pitch on the end of Josh Hamilton’s bat, but he was put on this team specifically for that reason, to face Hamilton with his [veteran experience] and poise in the past,” he said.
“I’m a big J.P. fan.”
George Christian Pappas covers the Tampa Bay Rays and Major League Baseball for ESPN Radio Gainesville/Ocala. He is finishing his degree in journalism and Spanish at the University of Florida. You can send him questions or comments at
Sir Charles with the slam