David Price's Cy-worthy start against Yankees saves Tampa Bay Rays' season for now

NEW YORK

There is life in David Price's left arm. No one has ever doubted it. What no one fully understood, however, is how quickly that arm can restore life, too.

On a cool Friday night in the Bronx, Price did what he could to resuscitate the Rays' season. In one of those star-maker moments, Price owned the night. He held off the Yankees, and he stopped his team's losing streak. He re-established himself as a Cy Young candidate and his team as a playoff contender. He plugged back in the cord to the life-support machine, and he reminded the skeptics it's not time to turn off the lights.

When you get down to it, how much more can a pitcher do?

"He was huge," said fellow Rays pitcher James Shields. "He pitches well in big games, and he's been carrying us all season doing that."

The Rays are still in trouble, of course. A 5-4 victory doesn't change that. Tampa Bay has squandered enough games lately to stack the odds against them. They still don't hit enough, and they still leave too many men on base, and they still drive their fans crazy. By now, most people seem to agree the Orioles and Yankees are the trendy picks in the AL East.

On the other hand, there is Price, and there is a pulse, and there is a new set of possibilities.

This was a night when a pitcher measured up to the pressure of the moment. The Rays were one loss — maybe two — from convincing all of us that this was not their year. Yes, the math suggested they still had a chance, but their shortcomings argued they did not. Certainly, it was beginning to feel as if the Rays were fading from the race.

Then Price came along, and for a night at least, there was still a reason to stay tuned.

Imagine being Price. He had missed a start due to shoulder soreness, so no one knew if he would be tight or rusty. He was facing the franchise that buys all the bats in Mansion Stadium. His team was reeling, and the clock was running, and the pressure was building. And the ball was in his hands.

In other words, it was exactly the kind of game in which Price likes to pitch.

"This is the kind you dream about when you're a kid," he said. "Bases loaded. Bottom of the ninth. Two men out. In the World Series. That sort of thing."

When the Cy Young voters cast their ballots, perhaps they should consider this game. Frankly, it was Price's finest argument for the award yet.

Yes, baseball is a game of statistics, and a great many voters find wins and losses less reliable than ERA or WHIP or batting average against when they are choosing the year's best pitcher. And that's fine.

Still, baseball is also a game of moments, of standing up to the pressure against an All-Star lineup when the playoffs are on the line. It is about taming Alex Rodriguez with two outs and two runners on and a one-run lead, the way Price did in the fifth. It is about stopping a free fall when the stakes are high.

Here's a question: What's the argument against Price? The 27-year-old leads the majors in ERA and the American League in wins. He is now 18-5, including 10-1 in his past 15 starts. In eight matchups against Yankees ace CC Sabathia, the Rays have won seven. (Price is 5-1 in those games).

Also, he lifts his team in the most important moments, the ones that look a lot like Friday night. It doesn't matter what sport an athlete plays or what position. The big moments always define the stars. Price might as well have been a quarterback leading a comeback or a point guard hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer or a goalie sprawled out to make the clutch save. Just asking, but shouldn't that count for something?

"It's got to count," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The Yankees. This park. Everything that was at stake. It's got to count."

As you may remember, Price was second in the Cy Young voting in 2010. Maddon will tell you that Price is a better pitcher now, wiser, more in command. He has become a stopper. More precisely, he has become a healer. He takes the mound, and everything gets better for his team.

Friday night, at least for the time being, Price pulled his team off of the ledge. He gave the Rays a chance in this game and a chance in this season. Granted, they may not have as big a chance at the postseason as you would like, but nevertheless, they have a chance.

Just a thought, isn't that better than having no chance at all?

David Price's Cy-worthy start against Yankees saves Tampa Bay Rays' season for now 09/14/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 15, 2012 12:41am]

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