Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Strange day for Tigers' David Price


That was weird.

For him. For them. For us. For everyone.

David Price stepped on the mound at Tropicana Field on Thursday and, just like always, the crowd gave him a long, rousing ovation as his walk-up music — Shawty Lo's Feels Good to Be Here — was played on the P.A. system. He was wearing that familiar No. 14 and his pant legs were hiked up high, just like always.

He dazzled hitters, as he often does. He struck out batters, as he often does. And he looked, as he often does, like one of the finest pitchers in all of baseball.

But everything else about this day felt strange, like something was just … off. Kind of like when you miss a belt loop or put your shirt on inside out.

As so it was Thursday when Price wore a cap with a "D" on the front and a jersey with the word "Detroit" stitched across the chest. When he walked to the third-base dugout after each inning, you couldn't help but wonder where in the world he was going.

With names such as Longoria and Zobrist standing in the batter's box in front of him instead of the field behind him, the reality hit home. David Price is really gone. David Price is an ex-Ray.

"That was different," Price said after a brilliant one-hit performance that he somehow lost.

He allowed just one unearned run and one hit — a first-inning triple to Brandon Guyer — and, surely feeling like he was still with the Rays, lost 1-0 because of no run support. Since they started keeping records in 1914, the Tigers had never lost a game in which they allowed only one hit.

Told you it was a strange day.

It was the kind of day that knocked any Rays fan off his equilibrium. Everything and yet nothing looked normal.

"Watching David go out there — different uniform, but nevertheless — it was very familiar," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The way he pitched, what he looked like, the color of the uniform was somewhat similar, the way he wore his socks, all that was similar. The way he pitched. Everything."

Three weeks to the day after being traded, the strange day capped a strange three-day trip to Tampa Bay for Price. He got to see his dog Astro again. He got to hang out in the Rays clubhouse, catching up with those who used to be his teammates but will always be his friends.

After talking about what it might be like to face his old teammates on the field, he found out what it was really like Thursday.

It started a couple of hours before the game when he ran into the opposing starting pitcher, Alex Cobb, in centerfield.

"He kind of surprised me," Cobb said.

Cobb wasn't sure what to do until Price opened his arms wide and gave Cobb a hug.

"I've never done that," Price said when asked if he has ever hugged the opposing pitcher on game day.

Price tried to keep the same routine for the rest of the afternoon — visualization exercises and imagery and so forth — but admitted it was impossible to act as if it was just another start.

"There were definitely more emotions," Price said. "But I handled them well."

He sure did. Price retired the first batter, Desmond Jennings, on a popup. Ben Zobrist reached on an error. Guyer tripled in Zobrist, and that was it. Price retired the next 23 in a row. He struck out nine and never even got to three balls on any batter.

It might have been the best game he ever pitched.

"The first time through the lineup," Price said, "that was really weird."

Price admitted he and the Rays' Sean Rodriguez exchanged smiles when Rodriguez was robbed of an extra-base hit on a great catch by rightfielder Torii Hunter up against the wall in the fifth, but by that point, it had become just another game.

He walked off the mound at the end of the eighth inning the same way he walked onto the mound to start the first — to a standing ovation. The only reason he didn't get to go back out for the ninth is because Cobb, Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee combined for a four-hit shutout.

Of course, Price's performance is a reminder at just how dominant he can be and how much the Rays will miss him. But Cobb's seven-inning, two-hit performance is a reminder that the Rays still have excellent pitching, including the next ace of the rotation.

The trade of Price will never be a popular one in these parts, but it was one that absolutely had to be made because of finances. Time will tell if the trade will work out, but don't blame pitching or Price's absence for why the Rays are not going to make the playoffs this season.

In the meantime, the season rolls on without Price, who is glad this game and this series is over.

"Yeah," Price said, "obviously that is something I never thought I'd really have to do, not pitching against these guys in this ballpark or really pitching against them at any time. But now it's over with."

A few moments later, Price headed down the hallway at the Trop with a backpack and rolling suitcase. He boarded a bus with his teammates — his Detroit teammates.

Isn't that weird?

Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] or (727) 893-8544. He can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620.

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