ST. PETERSBURG — There were some gimmicks, the old-school stirrup socks a few players wore and the most public display yet of their new hand gesture, interlocking fingers to symbolize team unity. There were some noteworthy contributions, such as Luke Scott's home run and B.J. Upton's bases-clearing double, and some novelty, including catcher Jose Molina — yes, Jose Molina — stealing a base.
But don't be distracted from the true reason the Rays (48-45) were back to a happy day in their season of schizophrenia after Thursday's 6-0 win over the Indians: the performance of one of their few consistent stars, lefty David Price.
Price delivered, again, taking a no-hitter into the fifth and working seven solid innings, allowing only two hits and three walks to notch his 13th win, matching the Mets' R.A. Dickey for the major-league lead.
"It definitely picks us up to know he's pitching right now," manager Joe Maddon said. "Especially after a loss like (Wednesday) night. A 12 o'clock game the next day. Who's pitching? David. Good. That kind of makes everything right in the world at that point.
"And he did it. Listen, he went out there and he was outstanding. You could see it from the very first inning. The fastball was there and was where he wanted it to be. I'm looking, he's 97-98 (mph), and it's not like he's straining to do it either."
Actually, the result might be as much a product of the confidence the Rays have when Price takes the mound as what he does on it.
"We're pretty confident every day," Upton said. "But the way he's going, it's tough not to be."
Price downplayed his role as any kind of savior — "I don't even think about it, to be honest" — saying the team just seems to play well on his day.
But at a time when none of the Rays' other starters can be counted on and the bullpen is working overtime, Price, coming off a third straight All-Star selection, has been the one relative constant.
Thursday was the sixth consecutive start he worked at least seven innings, the 12th time in his last 14 and his 13th total, matching Seattle's Felix Hernandez for most in the American League. The Rays are 13-6 (.684) in games he starts, 35-39 (.473) with anyone else on the mound.
Price assures it's not easy, though he certainly makes it look that way, with his 13-4 record and 2.64 ERA. Maddon said the 26-year-old is noticeably better than his 2010 season, when all he did was go 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA and finish second in the AL Cy Young voting, and has moved into a lofty level at least among the league's elite.
"Selfishly," Maddon said, "I think he is the best right now in the American League."
The Rays certainly need him to be as they try to hang on to their place in the crowded AL wild-card field. Scott, continuing his warming trend, homered in the third to put the Rays ahead before a kids camps-infused crowd of 27,856. Then Upton, one of three Rays wearing the stirrup socks, capped a two-out rally in the sixth with a three-run double, the Rays' first bases-clearing hit in more than a month.
"I think everybody in this clubhouse is confident," Price said. "And if we can get some guys hot and get some pitchers feeling good on the mound, a lot of stuff can happen."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]