ST. PETERSBURG — This was exactly the kind of dazzling performance the Rays think David Price is capable of most times he takes the mound. Friday, it was precisely what they needed.
Not just because the 9-3 victory extended their start to a franchise-best-matching 3-1. And not just because the dreaded Yankees were in town — though that certainly made it better. But because with the bullpen tired and tattered, it's what elite pitchers are supposed to do.
Price was dominating, scattering seven hits and striking out seven while working 72/3 innings, the most of his 25 career big-league starts. Manager Joe Maddon and catcher Dioner Navarro couldn't say enough, Maddon surmising, "That had to be the best I've ever seen him."
Price, typically, wasn't anywhere near satisfied.
"That's not good enough for me," he said. "I'm thrilled that we won, but a lot of room for improvement. A lot of room."
Price, 24, got plenty of support.
From his hitters, with two-run homers by Carlos Peña, his first of the season, and Willy Aybar, in his first start ahead of Pat Burrell at designated hitter. From his bullpen, as Lance Cormier got the key 24th out and Mike Ekstrom the final three. From his defense, leftfielder Carl Crawford making yet another highlight-reel play. And even from the Tropicana Field crowd of 33,221, which, in the relative world of Rays baseball, was notable in being mostly for the real home team.
Price was electric from the start, striking out three of the first five Yankees, hitting 96 mph on the stadium gun and 97 on FSN's and maintaining his velocity with 95s in the eighth.
The key with him is command of his fastball. And he had it early, needing just 66 pitches over the first six innings (though 45 over the remaining 12/3.)
"I've said it 203 times, I think: When he gets fastball command, everything else works off it," Maddon said.
And what makes Price a different and better pitcher than when he was sent to Triple A at the start of last season is what he complements the fastball with — a curveball Maddon said "pretty much at this time last year was nonexistent," a slider that was "inconsistent" and a changeup that was "a novice pitch." Add in a two-seam fastball he picked up in July from former quality assurance coach Todd Greene, and he has a full repertoire.
Plus, Maddon said, "He loves the moment. There's no doubt about that."
The Yanks have seen him five times and haven't figured him out, with a team .153 average.
"He really didn't make any mistakes," Mark Teixeira said.
"Outstanding," Jorge Posada said.
After a single, an Alex Rodriguez triple and an errant Navarro throw gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead, the Rays scored five.
"Our first real frenzied kind of inning," Maddon said.
Peña had the big blow, a two-run homer to right, and Jason Bartlett added a two-run double that got by the Yankees' current leftfielder, Marcus Thames, but might have been caught by a speedier one.
Another accomplishment: The Rays got the Yankees to make 27 outs in less than three hours, which was neither pathetic nor embarrassing.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.