(Sports Network) - Two of the best left-handers in baseball face off this evening when Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers open a three-game series against David Price and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
"If you're a baseball fan," Tampa manager Joe Maddon said, "you've got to be digging on this game. I don't see how you can't. For me, I'd love to see our first Monday night sellout without a giveaway. If you're a real baseball aficionado, it doesn't get much better than those two lefties going after it."
Lee failed to go at least eight innings for the first time in 11 starts on Wednesday against New York. He surrendered four runs and eight hits in 6 1/3 innings, but did not get a decision, despite striking out 11 without walking a batter.
"I felt like I was running out of gas there," Lee said. "It was a hot day and they made me work quite a bit. I was still making pitches, but they weren't located as well as I would like."
Lee improved to 10-5 on the year, but saw his earned run average rise to 2.57, which is third best in the American League behind Boston's Clay Buchholz and Oakland's Trevor Cahill.
The Rays beat Lee earlier in the year and he is just 6-4 lifetime against them with a 2.51 ERA in 12 starts.
Price, meanwhile, will be shooting for his AL-best 16th win of the season this evening. He won his third straight decision last Monday in Detroit, as he held the Tigers to a pair of runs and five hits in five innings to improve to 15-5 to go along with a 2.84 ERA.
Price, though, is 0-2 in three starts against the Rangers with a 9.45 ERA in those outings.
Tonight's tilt could very well be a postseason preview as the Rangers come into tonight's game with an 8 1/2-game advantage on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for the top spot in the American League West, while the Rays sit five games in front of Boston for the wild card. Tampa is also just a game back of the Yankees in the AL East.
The Rangers took two of three from the Red Sox over the weekend, winning the series with a 7-3 win on Sunday. Michael Young hit a three-run homer in the win, while Julio Borbon and Andres Blanco each drove in two runs.
C.J. Wilson (11-5) scattered four hits and one run over 7 2/3 innings, fanning eight with one walk.
"It was more on my command. I didn't have great stuff. I was able to put my stuff where I needed it to be, make use of the corners well," said Wilson of his performance, which moved him to 3-0 against the Sox this season. "I had a better time pitching against them at their place a couple weeks ago."
Tampa bounced back from a loss in the opener of its three-game series with the Baltimore Orioles to win the series with back-to-back wins to close the set. On Sunday, Jeremy Hellickson won for the third time in as many tries in his short time in the majors, tossing six innings of one-run ball to give the Rays a 3-2 win.
Carl Crawford homered and added an RBI single amid a 3-for-4 afternoon and Matt Joyce connected for the decisive double in the third inning to score Ben Zobrist.
Hellickson (3-0) continued to impress in just his third career start, scattering three hits with a walk and five strikeouts. His earned-run average actually rose from 1.29 to 1.35 because the young right-hander had shut out Detroit for seven innings his last time out and went seven frames in beating the Twins in his major league debut on August 2.
"I felt probably better the last three innings than the first three, with the command of all my pitches. I don't think I had the life on my fastball I did the first two games, but after the first few innings I settled down," Hellickson said.
It was just the Rays' fourth win in 11 games overall. Rafael Soriano closed things out in the ninth for his 33rd save of the season.
Texas took two of three from the Rays earlier in the year.