MINNEAPOLIS — The tremendous pitching the Rays got again from David Price on Saturday they have come to rely on, at least as long as he's still with them.
But if they are going to continue their march back into postseason contention — and along the way, potentially reduce the chance of Price being traded — they are going to need help from less prominent contributors as well.
In beating the Twins 5-1, they got another dazzling, dominating outing from Price, who won his career-high fifth straight start, allowing four hits over eight innings and striking out nine without a walk.
"We were talking before the game about how well he's been pitching and trying to compare it to his Cy Young Award-winning year (2012)," manager Joe Maddon said. "And I'm telling you, he's right there now."
But the Rays also got all five runs knocked in by the unlikely duo of Sean Rodriguez, whose homer into the second deck was forecast by Maddon, and Jose Molina, who had his first multi-RBI game in more than a year.
"We are 25 guys," Molina said, "25 guys who are going to do something to help the team win."
The Rays improved to 46-53, having won four straight, 13 of 17 and 22 of 33. They remained 81/2 games behind AL East-leading Baltimore, and at worst they stayed seven games back of Seattle for the second American League wild card, pending late Saturday's result.
Price didn't start well, lacking fastball command and needing 23 pitches to get through the first.
"He wasn't him," Molina said. "He was throwing cutters up there, I don't even know where he got them. And then he settled down, started hitting spots and controlling himself, and another eight shutout innings."
Price said he made a slight adjustment warming up for the third. He cruised from there, extending his scoreless streak to 16 innings, working at least eight for the eighth time in his past 11 starts, improving his ERA to 3.06 and extending his majors-leading strikeout total to 173.
As good as his 20-5, 2.56 ERA Cy Young season?
"I'm throwing the ball better," Price said. "I've never been the pitcher that I am right now. That's awesome. It's cool. I enjoy it. I want to get better every day. I'm constantly looking for things to critique and just to give the hitter something else to think about."
As Price was settling in, his mates gave him a 3-0 lead in the second.
Maddon had several reasons for starting Rodriguez and seven righty hitters overall, including their schedule, upcoming opponents and the matchup with Twins right-hander Phil Hughes. Before the game, Maddon told several people he really liked Rodriguez's chances and expected him to hit a homer into the second deck.
And after two singles, a double-play grounder by Yunel Escobar and Molina's RBI single, Rodriguez did just that, giving him 10 homers, one fewer than team leader Evan Longoria — who high-fived Maddon in the dugout — in less than half as many at-bats, and 35 RBIs. "I'm glad he was right," Rodriguez said.
Lately, that has been happening a lot for the Rays.