Price a not-so-secret weapon for Rays
Phenom's rapid ascent has been quite a ride this postseason
ST. PETERSBURG -- It's homecoming this weekend at Vanderbilt University, information proud former Commodore David Price divulges with little remorse.
Even when the topic shifts to the headlining event, a concert from Grammy-nominated rapper Lil Wayne -- a self-professed Price fan -- the 23-year-old Rays pitcher simply shrugs.
"Here" is three wins away from a World Series championship for the Rays, the kind of dizzying celebration that far outweighs this weekend's parade though the streets of Nashville, Tenn.
In fact, "dizzying" aptly describes the life of Price these last few months. The 23-year-old has made his ascent from top overall pick in the 2007 First Year Player Draft to a dominating left-handed reliever in seemingly one fell swoop.
Recalled following Triple-A Durham's postseason run on Sept. 13, Price made the Rays' playoff roster with just five games of big league experience. In baseball's modern era, only six pitchers have reached the postseason with a shorter resume.
Never mind the two semesters of independent study Price plans on completing for his sociology degree. This fall, the young lefty is acing his on-the-job training with the poise and performance of a seasoned veteran.
"He's got a chance to rewrite a lot of the record books here if he stays healthy, I'll tell you that," said Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey. "I would expect him to do so."
Price's talent trumps his limited experience, and he has earned the Rays' confidence in several dodgy spots.
Price retired Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series and picked up his first win the following night in Game 2, recording Boston's final two outs in a thrilling 11-inning contest.
But his first two postseason outings were chump change compared to the volatile situation Price entered on Sunday, in a do-or-die Game 7.
STRAIGHT INTO THE FIRE
|David Price made the Rays' postseason roster with just five games of big league experience. In baseball's modern era, only 12 players have reached the playoffs with a shorter resume.|
|Source: STATS, Inc.|
After consulting with catcher Dioner Navarro, Maddon rolled the dice again and ran the lefty out for the ninth inning, a move Price paid back in spades. Throwing heat in the upper 90s coupled with a devastating slider, Price erased a leadoff walk with a pair of strikeouts and a game-ending ground ball.
"That's why he's going to be here for a long time," Rays designated hitter and resident veteran Cliff Floyd said shortly after the club piled on Price to celebrate its AL title. "That's why he's going to be something to contend with. He's special; he really is."
And it was only fitting that the same young arm on the mound when the Rays punched their first World Series ticket would be the last reliever on the hill in the club's first World Series victory on Thursday night.
Price's first assignment on baseball's biggest stage came equipped with one of the game's most prolific hitters, Philadelphia's Ryan Howard. With one out and a runner on first, Howard had a chance to slash the Rays' lead in the half with just one powerful stroke. Five pitches later, Price sent Howard back to the dugout with his bat on his shoulder, as the rest of the Rays watched in awe.
"I'm going, 'This is incredible stuff right here,'" Rays reliever J.P. Howell said. "My buddies say, 'Oh man, I would have guts, too, if I threw 97.' It doesn't work that way, man, if you can't control 97 -- if you're all messed up in the head. It seems like he's got the head thing all locked in right now."
As Price calmly collected the final seven outs on Thursday night, Howell watched from his spot in the bullpen, warming up in the event that the young phenom -- who allowed two runs (one earned) -- got into a late-game jam.
"I wouldn't say I didn't have any doubts," Howell said. "But I really didn't ... when he's out there, it's minimal."
Price's rapid arrival -- from Class A to the Majors in four months -- is just another reason why the improbable Rays are smiling when they have a late-inning lead. And it is the crux of why the Phillies head home to Citizens Bank Park frantically scouring the limited tape on Price, Tampa Bay's newest secret weapon.
"[Price] handled himself well," said Phillies leadoff man Jimmy Rollins, who popped up for the first out in the ninth on Thursday night. "That's why he's here, obviously -- because they expected him to be able to handle himself in that situation. It almost got sticky, but he was able to shut the door."
Emotional bullets. That's what Maddon calls each reliever's striking ability to fire away under such heated scenarios.
It's the reason the skipper handed the ball to Price in Game 7's peak moment. Making his usual pregame rounds on the field, Maddon looked in the eyes of Price, exchanged a few words and filed away his assessment -- Price was locked and loaded.
|"He's going to be something to contend with. He's special; he really is."|
|-- Cliff Floyd, on David Price|
Even when Price does take time to digest the moment -- and garner a sweat-soaked cap and case of butterflies as he did on Thursday night -- the southpaw rarely lets his emotions spill over onto the field.
Instead, he prefers to save that display for the dog pile Price hopes will encompass him one more time, in World Series-clinching fashion.
And with any luck, Vanderbilt will have to add another accolade above his locker, safely enshrined in the school's Hall of Legends. Price may have missed the ceremonial event last week, but there isn't a Vandy alumnus he would swap places with, even those set to see one of his favorite rappers this weekend.
"Absolutely not," Price said. "I don't think anybody could really imagine this. We are one of two teams that are still playing. The Red Sox are at home, the Yankees, the Angels. This is surreal right now."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.