Price blocks out distractions, excels on mound
Trade rumors are out of his control, so Rays' ace focuses on his pitching
NEW YORK -- On the eve of his start at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, Rays left-hander David Price was feeling a little pensive. He understands chances are, barring something unforeseen, that he'll be pulled aside sometime in the next few weeks and told that he's been traded from the only organization he's ever known. And there's nothing he can do about it.
Or is there?
Sure, it seems like a Hail Mary at this point. But the only reason Tampa Bay would consider trading the ace is if the front office doesn't believe, when the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline arrives, that there is a realistic hope of making the postseason. Otherwise, the scripted move for a small-market franchise is to replenish its roster with younger, less-expensive talent in exchange for a pitcher who could make around $20 million in arbitration next season and then will be a free agent after that.
So what Price can do -- all he can do, really -- is whatever he can to help his team win to make the decision to pull the trigger on a trade more difficult. Maybe, just maybe, a team that has a better record than only the Astros in the American League can put together a streak that will make his bosses reconsider what now appears so inevitable. That's why he talked wistfully at some length on Monday about the vagaries of the game, how you never know what will happen, how many games are left.
That would have rung hollow if Price hadn't held up his end, of course. But that's exactly what he did by going out and backing up his words with another impressive start, scattering four hits and allowing one run in seven innings of Tuesday night's 2-1 win over the Yankees.
"He was fabulous," said manager Joe Maddon, noting that exceptional players rise to the occasion when the chips are down. "I love that. Stay here David," he added with a smile. "Pitchers and players like David make managers much smarter. It's very simple.
"He's stated several times this year that he thinks he's pitching as well as he ever has. To make that statement, you've got to go out and do something about it. And he has."
Price struck out nine, which left him just short of joining Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Nolan Ryan as the only pitchers in history with double-digit strikeouts in six straight games. It was, however, his seventh straight quality start.
He conceded that he was proud of his streak, even if he did come up just short of extending it.
"Striking hitters out is tough, especially at this level," he said. "They're extremely good. But it would have been cool to get that 10th one."
Price didn't allow his first hit until Derek Jeter led off the bottom of the fourth with a double. Jacoby Ellsbury followed with a single to put runners on first and third with nobody out, but Price was able to limit the damage.
With one out, Ellsbury broke for second and was caught in a rundown. After looking Jeter back to third, shortstop Ben Zobrist's throw hit the runner, allowing Jeter to score and Ellsbury to reach second. But that was all the Yankees got.
"They scored on a botched rundown play. Other than that, he was almost perfect," Maddon said.
The Rays have won four straight, six out of seven and 13 of their last 20. They were 15 games out of first in the AL East on June 10 but have cut that deficit to 9 1/2.
"I didn't know it was all that, but I think we've played our best baseball of the year over the last three weeks," Price said. "We're a very confident group. I think we're playing the kind of ball we expected from Opening Day. If we can get something going, hopefully something cool can happen."
Tampa Bay's offense remains a concern. Price can only pitch every fifth game. And the flip side to all this is that, the better he pitches, the more attractive he becomes to teams like the Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers, Yankees, Blue Jays, Giants and any other club looking to add pitching down the stretch.
There is so much Price can't control. But he did what he can. He took care of business Tuesday night. Asked after the game how difficult it is to have trade rumors swirling around him, he shrugged.
"I just play baseball," he said. "That's my job. My job's not to worry about what's going on in the front office or anybody else's team. My job is to go out there and give us a chance to win and that's what I tried to do."
Now he can only wait and hope until his turn to start comes around again.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.