ST. PETERSBURG — David Price was riding the exercise bike in the tunnel leading from the Rays dugout to the clubhouse during the eighth inning of Sunday's game when pitching coach Jim Hickey approached — gently — to check on him.
Price was three outs from the first complete-game shutout of his pro career, and his teammates were expanding their lead over the Blue Jays to the final 6-0 margin. He saw no need for anything beyond a short conversation.
"Real short," Price said. "I didn't have much to say. If they would have taken me out of that game, I would have been really mad.
"He asked me how I felt, and I told him I wasn't coming out of this game. It was mine. And I think Joe (Maddon) knew that."
The Rays manager had an idea as Price walked right by him after the eighth, then again on his way out for the ninth, without pausing or even making eye contact, his determination obvious.
"I know he is of that ilk," Maddon said.
The Rays let Price finish, as much for the confidence boost of his first complete game as anything, and everything turned out well. The 24-year-old lefty finished with a 108-pitch four-hitter, the Rays with a major league-best 14-5 record.
Price was in control of everything — well, except the post-game shaving cream facial Matt Garza applied — and he had some help.
The defense was again dazzling, especially an eighth-inning double play when third baseman Evan Longoria dived full out and threw from his knees to second baseman Sean Rodriguez, who somehow topped him with a spectacular turn. "Wow," Carlos Peña said, pretty much covering the clubhouse reaction.
The offense was, well, interesting. Before the Rays got their first hit off Toronto starter Brandon Morrow — actually, before they got their first ball out of the infield — they had been caught stealing a team-record four times by Jose Molina (including Carl Crawford twice for just the third time in his career), walked six times and struck out four times. "You can't go against your nature," Maddon joked.
But after Peña walked to open the fifth, B.J. Upton blooped a double into shallow right. With Toronto manager Cito Gaston cooperating by playing the infield in (and sticking with it after Pat Burrell struck out), John Jaso delivered again, smashing a hard grounder that second baseman Aaron Hill couldn't handle and scoring two. The Rays added four in the eighth, extending their franchise-best start and completing an early season run of intradivision games an impressive 12-4.
Price's performance started before he took the mound Sunday. It went back to Tuesday in Chicago, when he was pulled two batters into the sixth of a poor start. He wasn't happy about it, the Rays knew it, all were eager to see what happened next.
"David always seems to fix things," Maddon said.
Price, while insisting he had better stuff in his first two starts, used his full repertoire Sunday, relying heavily on his curve early then his two-seam fastball late, retiring 12 straight at one point, striking out nine. "Unbelievable," Upton said.
Really, the Rays said, it wasn't a surprise. The first hint of what he was up to came when he approached Jaso in the dugout before the game.
"He's like, 'Let's do this, it's our game,' " Jaso said. "And he dominated. That's like all there really was to it."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.