ST. PETERSBURG — There was chatter about getting settled down after all the injuries and getting home. About the large crowds and loud music. About the rejuvenated offense that was equal parts hustle and muscle.
But the talk of the Rays' 5-2 Saturday victory over the Twins was, more than anything, about the lanky left-hander on the mound who set the tempo by setting down the Twins, striking out 11 of the 25 batters over 52/3 electrifying innings for his first career regular-season win.
And David Price told you it really started the night before, when James Shields' strong start propelled Price to just have to do as well or better before a rocking, nearly sold-out Trop and a Fox regional TV audience.
"Shields did a great job (Friday) night, and I just wanted to build on that," Price said. "We're trying to get a streak going, that's what it's about.
"We've got (Matt) Garza throwing (today) and everyone in here feels good when he throws. That's what we need right now. Garza needs to try and come out there and one-up me. (Tuesday starter Andy Sonnanstine) needs to one-up Garza. And keep it going like that."
It's not that easy, of course. Because not everyone can do what Price can, which Saturday was basically overpower the Twins with 96 mph fastballs, striking out two in each of his first five innings and one more in the sixth. He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 25 Twins and 76 of his 108 pitches for strikes.
"He looked unbelievable today," Carlos Peña said. "It was so much fun to be behind him. So aggressive, a lot of strikes. That was just a stellar performance. I was very impressed."
Or as Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said: "A guy that was really throwing the fire out of the ball."
Price wasn't perfect — in part because he admitted he was trying too hard to be perfect. But he was better than in Monday's debut, and given the inconsistencies of their rotation, the Rays will take the one run, the five hits, even the 108 pitches in less than six innings (though maybe not the extremely errant toss to first). Especially when you remember he's 23 and it was his third career start, first at the Trop.
"You can see, he's still growing into this position," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's not even about expectations, it's about being 20-some years old and getting his first couple starts in the big leagues. This guy's not spent a whole lot of time in pro ball.
"And that's the point: You have to understand there's still development to be done, and we understand that. That's part of the patient process. He's going to be very good. He's going to be really good."
Price didn't quite do it all.
Joe Dillon, who wasn't even in the organization 3½ weeks ago, homered in his first career Trop at-bat to start a four-run third. Carl Crawford went deep again, his second in two games, finished with three hits and a .329 average and made a splendid catch, though his stolen base streak ended. Evan Longoria extended his MLB-leading RBI total to 55.
Grant Balfour got eight outs in relief, and Randy Choate got the last two (with Joe Mauer looming on deck) for his second save in two nights after 198 career appearances without one. Overall, Rays pitchers fanned 15, most in the majors this season in a nine-inning game and matching the second most in team history.
Coming off their painful road trip and five-game losing streak, the Rays (25-27) have won two straight and have their sights set on a sweep today, with the chance to get to Monday's long-awaited off day within a game of .500.
"We've turned a corner as far as the way we're playing the game, I think we're playing a whole lot better," Longoria said. "But we need to have a good homestand. There's no doubt about that. We need to win five of six, or all six games. I think everybody knows that. We're still trying to take it a day at a time, but I think there's a little bit more urgency in winning these games to put ourselves back into contention."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com