David Price still an ace, and still a Ray

ST. PETERSBURG

He wasn't even supposed to be here.

David Price was supposed to be on another mound Monday, in another city, on another team.

He could have been in Southern California or New York City. He probably should have been in Chicago or San Francisco or Texas.

No one thought he would be here. At Tropicana Field. In St. Petersburg. And, most of all, in a Rays uniform.

Eventually and sadly, there will come a day when he will no longer call Tampa Bay home. Some day, he will stuff his gear into a duffle bag and head off for the bright lights and fat contract of the big city.

Fortunately for the Rays, that day was not Monday.

And until that day comes, Price expects to do what he did Monday —baffle, bewilder and befuddle hitters on his way to another dominant victory.

"Outstanding," his manager, Joe Maddon, said.

The ace of the staff and the former Cy Young winner pitched like, well, the ace of the staff and a Cy Young winner. Price plowed into the eighth, allowing two runs on six hits while striking out six to lead the Rays past Toronto on opening day.

It was a Rays' opening day that, honestly, even Price doubted he would make. His contract is up after next season. He will cash in for crazy money, something like $200 million.

Let's be honest, there's no way the Rays have that kind of dough. Might as well trade him and get something before losing him for nothing.

That seemed to be the thinking in the offseason. The Rays weren't necessarily shopping Price, but they were listening. It just made too much sense not to listen.

But either a worthwhile deal never came along or the Rays decided they weren't ready to give away their ace just yet.

Whatever the reason, Price stayed. And no one was happier about that than Price.

"It feels good to be back here," Price said. "Everybody in the clubhouse knows that I want to be here. And I know that these guys in this clubhouse want me here. So, it's great to be back. It's great to contribute to this team. This is a definition of a team right here."

That's the thing about Price. He knows what he has here in Tampa Bay.

He's no dummy. He knows there is big money out there waiting for him someday. But he understands how special it is to be a Ray.

He plays for a manager he respects. He plays with players he likes. He plays in an organization that might not be wealthy in payroll, but is certainly rich in character. And it's a winner.

So he came into the spring training, partly relieved to still be here, but more determined than ever to make a difference.

"Focused," Price said when asked to describe his state of mind these days.

He's already done so much for this organization. He won 19 games one season. He won 20 and a Cy Young another time. Last year, after a rough start and a trip to the disabled list, he returned to become one of baseball's best second-half pitchers and led to the Rays into the postseason with a gutsy performance in a one-game play-in at Texas.

"I just want to get back to where I was," Price said. "Last year, the starts I made before I went on the DL, that was not myself. I threw the ball extremely well after that, but I want to do that for 32, 33 starts. I don't want to be a guy who can piece it together for 20 starts and then the next 12 are going to be so-so. I want to be that guy who goes out there every five days and this squad knows we have a good chance to win."

He did that brilliantly on Monday. He cruised most of the afternoon.

When he got into trouble, he quickly got out if.

He got a double-play ball to work out of a jam in the third. He fought through a 10-pitch at-bat to strike out Brett Lawrie and escape trouble in the fourth.

And just when it appeared that he his pitch count would force him from the game way too early, he had a six-pitch inning in the sixth and a seven-pitch inning in the seventh.

"He's one of the best pitchers if not the best left-hander in the game," teammate Wil Myers said. "To have him on our team only gives us an advantage. To have him start on opening day is even better."

Price finally cracked in the eighth, allowing a two-run homer to Erik Kratz, but showed true grit by bouncing back and striking out the next hitter before departing to a standing ovation.

"He has put so much into the preparation for this season and for him to come out and see the fruits of all that, it's good," Maddon said. "It's a validation of what he had done. And he's just going to keep getting better, I believe."

Opening day is always special, but you could tell this opening day meant even more to Price.

"Very meaningful," Price said.

Very meaningful. That's how Price describes what Monday and this season means to him. It also describes what he means to his team.

For now, that team, surprisingly enough, is the Rays.

David Price still an ace, and still a Ray 03/31/14 [Last modified: Monday, March 31, 2014 10:57pm]

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