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10/24/08 2:20 AM EST

Rays find the right Price in the end

Lefty records final seven outs to finish Game 2 win for Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG -- Five months ago, David Price was quietly pitching on run-down fields for undersized crowds in the anything-but-luxurious advanced Class A Florida State League.

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On Thursday night, the Rays' not-so-secret weapon tossed the final 2 1/3 innings of Game 2 in front of a capacity crowd at Tropicana Field to secure the franchise's first World Series victory, a 4-2 decision against the Phillies.

In doing so, Price -- the No. 1 selection in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft -- became the fastest top overall pick to play in the World Series, and not once, but twice, he came out on top in pressure-packed showdowns with Phillies slugger Ryan Howard.

"Ice in his veins, man," Rays designated hitter Cliff Floyd said of Price. "He gives you a sense of calmness when he steps on the mound. And that's a good thing for [such] an early age."

It wasn't as reassuring inside Price's head, as the southpaw admitted he was a little wary under the bright lights of baseball's biggest stage.

"I was nervous," Price said. "It was different [against Philadelphia] than it was against Boston. In the bottom of the ninth inning, no one on, I was more worried than throwing to J.D. Drew [in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series with the] bases loaded, two outs."

Donning a cap brimming with sweat, the 23-year-old Vanderbilt University alumnus entered the game with a runner on first and walked Chase Utley on four straight pitches. Catcher Dioner Navarro came out to the hill and jokingly asked Price, "Hey, are you going to throw a strike tonight or what?"

The light-hearted ribbing resonated with Price, who used those self-described "butterflies" as adrenaline -- striking out prolific hitter Howard on a nasty 86-mph slider.

Price retired the following two batters in the top of the eighth before Phillies pinch-hitter Eric Bruntlett connected for a solo homer. But the young pitcher kept his cool, retiring Pedro Feliz before Philadelphia's offense attempted to add to its first run of the game.

In the dugout, Rays manager Joe Maddon asked Price how he was feeling, and the young phenom made no bones about wanting the ball to close out the game.

Even after Carlos Ruiz touched him for a leadoff double, scoring after Jayson Werth reached base on a one-out error, Price kept an even-keel. The powerful lefty struck out Utley to bring up Howard with two outs and two on.

"He handled himself well. 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."
-- Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, on David Price

"He's human, just like everybody else out there," Price said. "He doesn't have any superpowers. So just make the pitch, keep the ball down, because he can definitely hit it over the fence. So just keep it down, and make the pitcher's pitch and just get him out."

And that he did, getting Howard to hit into a game-ending groundout to second baseman Akinori Iwamura.

"He handled himself well," said Phillies leadoff man Jimmy Rollins, who popped up to third base for the first out in the ninth. "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."

Rays reliever J.P. Howell watched from his spot in the bullpen, warming up in the ninth inning with "minimal doubt" that he needed to rescue Price.

"[Price is] not even fazed," Howell said. "He came back [from Bruntlett's homer] throwing strikes. That's what you look for if you're the manager, always."

A blistering fastball in the mid-90s and a filthy slider doesn't hurt either.

"He's going to throw strikes; he's going to attack the hitter," Navarro said. "The guy's amazing. He's going to help us through the whole series."

A starter-turned-reliever, Maddon had no qualms with Price tossing 42 pitches in collecting the game's final seven outs.

"That's the difference with him than other relief pitchers -- [it] is the fact he's been stretched out," Maddon said. "You feel comfortable with him going 40 pitches and not even blinking an eye."

Devoid of an actual closer, Maddon prefers an all-hands-on-deck approach with his bullpen.

That philosophy explains why the third-year skipper went to two different arms -- World Series veteran Dan Wheeler and the rookie Price -- to steer the Rays out of any late-inning trouble.

With two outs in the sixth inning and starter James Shields' pitch count nearing 100, a pair of Philadelphia singles from the speedy Shane Victorino and Greg Dobbs was evidence enough for Maddon to call to his bullpen.

Wheeler, who has been traditionally used as the Rays' de facto closer, entered with Victorino on third and Dobbs on first, and he kept Shields' shutout secure by retiring Feliz.

Wheeler also fanned Rollins and Werth for the first two outs in the seventh, before handing the ball off to Price.

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.