ST. PETERSBURG — That left-hander David Price tied a club record with his American League-leading 14th win of the season Thursday came as little surprise to his teammates.
Why? Because Price still has more than two months left in his first full big-league season, they were excited about how much he can still grow, and how far both he — and the Rays — can go.
Price helped Tampa Bay to a four-game-sweep-clinching 4-2 win over the Tigers in front of 26,716 Thursday at Tropicana Field. And after winning six in a row, the Rays (63-38) are playing some of their best ball at the right time, as they prepare to host the first-place Yankees for three soldout games this weekend.
"I keep on saying the sky is the limit with a guy like Price," first baseman Carlos Peña said. "He's just a kid, let's not forget about that. He's going into this third year, and he's already made a name for himself and established himself as one of the best pitchers in the league. So, man, I'm just so proud of him."
Peña was a big reason why Price, 24, matched the club milestone. Peña, who had a 424-foot solo homer to right off the D-ring catwalk in the second inning, knocked in all four runs, showing glimpses of what could be another second-half surge at the plate.
And the short-handed bullpen came through again, including — for the third straight game — walking Miguel Cabrera to load the bases with two outs in the seventh, then preserving a one-run lead.
"Here we go again," manager Joe Maddon said, "And we did it again."
Price said he felt he had a good fastball, and that's what he predominantly threw Thursday, especially to Cabrera, who made for three of the All-Star starter's nine strikeouts.
"If he was going to beat me, I wanted to do it with my best pitch, and that's a fastball," Price said.
The Tigers first baseman also was the victim in the field, too, on the two singles by Peña that scored three runs.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the third, Peña ripped a grounder off Cabrera and into shallow right to score two. Another Peña chopper in the eighth bounced off Cabrera's glove for an infield hit to score another.
"One of them was one of those top spinners, probably hit a slider right to him," Peña said. "Even though he's used to hitting them with a bat, I don't think he's used to catching them with a glove."
Price's day ended in the seventh, when a one-out balk and Austin Jackson's run-scoring single cut the Rays lead to 3-2. Believe it or not, Maddon said, it was "kind of a compliment" Price got called for a balk, as it showed his great improvement on a previously "nonexistent" pickoff move that he has been working on this week.
"As he masters that maneuver, he's going to get really good with it," Maddon said.
To maneuver out of the jam, lefty Randy Choate got two outs, including a Brennan Boesch groundout after walking Cabrera. With Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit and Rafael Soriano all unavailable due to a heavy workload this week, Dan Wheeler picked up the slack with a two-inning save. That saved the bullpen heading into the series with New York, which the Rays trail by two games after the Yankees' victory later Thursday.
"Any time you play the Yankees, regardless of it is April or September, there's a different feel to it, an exciting feel, a good feeling," Wheeler said. "Because right now, they're the best team in baseball, they have the best record, so you want to play against those guys and compete at the highest level."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.