Baseball / Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Charlie Morton (50) looks to Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings (8) on first base in the first inning at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Wednesday, June 25, 2014. (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Times/MCT)

Rays beat Pirates 5-1 in pitching battle

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- No matter how many strikes Charlie Morton threw, no matter how many times he forced Tampa Bay Rays batters to chase his curveball, he couldn't erase the runs allowed in the first inning.

Against David Price, that's the only thing that would have helped.

The Tampa Bay Rays lefty pitched 8 1/3 excellent innings in the 5-1 Pirates loss at Tropicana Field Thursday afternoon, helping the Rays avoid a series sweep. The loss snapped a four-game win streak for the Pirates.

Price and Morton squaring off made for great theater. They each struck out 11, which for Morton set a career high. Morton locked things down after a tough first inning.

Price was untouchable through eight innings. The Pirates mounted one scoring chance against him and a running catch on the warning track by Desmond Jennings ended the threat.

Price entered the game with the most strikeouts in the American League, but also the most home runs allowed and tied for the league lead in hits allowed. He had struck out 10 or more batters in each of his previous four starts, three of which lasted eight innings, and he became the first pitcher to strike out double-digit batters in five consecutive starts since Johan Santana in 2004.

The Pirates'? Josh Harrison, the second batter of the game, singled and stole second. Price walked Russell Martin in the second and allowed a two-out single to Neil Walker in the fifth, but that was it until the seventh.

Martin reached base on a fielder's choice after Gaby Sanchez singled with one out. Shortstop Jordy Mercer followed with a single. Walker drove a long fly ball to the warning track that Jennings ran down with a leaping catch, keeping the Pirates scoreless.

Not until Andrew McCutchen homered with one out in the ninth did Rays manager Joe Maddon remove Price, who had allowed five hits and one walk in his 120-pitch outing.

Jennings, who singled to lead off the bottom of the first, broke for second on Morton's pitch to Ben Zobrist. Zobrist lined a ball to the gap in right-center that ticked off a sliding McCutchen's glove, resulting in an RBI triple.

Matt Joyce struck out. Evan Longoria grounded to short, scoring a run, but Mercer bobbled the ball. James Loney singled and Morton hit Brandon Guyer with a pitch, loading the bases. Kevin Kiermaier's sacrifice fly scored the third run of the inning, during which Morton threw 29 pitches to eight batters.

Morton put out the first-inning tire fire and settled in. He allowed only two batters to reach base in the next six innings and recorded swing-and-miss strikeouts with his curveball.

Jason Grilli entered in the eighth and allowed two runs on three hits before Justin Wilson relieved him.

(c)2014 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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