Nick Martinez was the first Ranger starter to record a quality start in 2014, but didn’t earn a win as Tampa Bay completed a late-inning comeback to beat Texas, 5-4. A two-run, opposite-field double by James Loney in the eighth inning was enough to leapfrog the Rays in front for good.
Martinez didn’t look like a 23-year-old rookie with no career experience beyond double-A on Saturday night. The righty, who signed his Major League contract in the clubhouse before the game, gave up only four hits in his Big League debut.
But the script was flipped for a bullpen that was as automatic as it got last season.
Jason Frasor came on to relive Martinez, and narrowly avoided surrendering the lead. Frasor allowed two hits before Elvis Andrus kept the lead intact with a fantastic bare-handed play to end the inning, stranding the tying run at third.
Neal Cotts came on to pitch the eighth, and worked himself into trouble with a leadoff walk. A sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk to Evan Longoria set the stage for Loney’s late game heroics.
The first inning couldn’t have been scripted much better for the Rangers’ lineup behind their young hurler. Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus set the table for the heart of the order, and Alex Rios delivered the first two first-inning runs of 2014 for Texas on an RBI double.
Choo and Andrus each singled off of David Price, and moved to second and third with a Prince Fielder fly ball and a stolen base from Andrus. Rios lined a 2-2 pitch over shortstop and into left-center for the two-out, two-RBI two-bagger.
The Rangers recorded three consecutive two-out singles in the second inning. Josh Wilson started the rally with an infield hit to third, and singles from Choo and Adrus tacked on the third run.
In the fourth, Texas strung together a hit batsman, a sacrifice bunt, a bloop single and a sacrifice fly to manufacture what was the go-ahead fourth run of the game.
It looked as though Martinez would make those four runs stand up.
He needed just 11 pitches in a three-up, three-down first inning, only the seventh perfect inning of the young season for the Rangers’ pitching staff.
Martinez escaped his the first jam of his Major League career unscathed in the second inning when he struck out Jose Molina with runners on first and third. Beltre helped the rookie’s cause with a nice play, covering a lot of ground to run down a foul ball with one out.
Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce each launched a Martinez pitch out of the park in the third and fourth innings, respectively. Escobar led off the third inning with a solo blast, while Joyce hit a towering two-run shot down the right field line in the next inning.
"I learned to limit my mistakes," Martinez told reporters after the game. "I made a few mistakes I wish I could have back, but that's part of the game."
Perhaps most impressive was the way Martinez battled back after those home runs. After Escobar’s homer in the third, the rookie walked David DeJesus, but induced a double play ground ball off the bat of Wil Myers to quell the threat.
Myers, the Rays’ sophomore sensation, went hitless against Martinez.
"[Mike Maddux] calmed me down, keeping it light, making sure I didn't pressure myself too much," he said to Fox Sports Southwest's Emily Jones.
Martinez, who wore no. 22 in the Ranger blue uniform, allowed just one baserunner in his final two innings of work - a harmless two-out walk to Loney - before the Rays gained their first lead against the Texas bullpen.
David Price needed 99 pitches to get through six innings, surrendering each of the Rangers’ four runs along with nine hits. Choo and Andrus combined for five hits against the Tampa Bay ace.
Jake McGee and Brandon Gomes pitched a scoreless seventh and eighth inning before Grant Balfour shut it down with a 1-2-3 ninth.
The Rays benefitted from the new replay system for the second time in the series. Robinson Chirinos was called safe on a ground ball to shortstop, but the call was challenged and overturned.
Game two of the three-game set in Tampa Bay is scheduled for 12:40 CT on Sunday. Yu Darvish will make his season debut for Texas as it tries to avoid a series sweep.