ST. PETERSBURG — Left-hander David Price said he can't remember the last time he was sick.
But after battling a 101-degree fever Friday night and still feeling bad Saturday, there was a legitimate question if he would make his scheduled start against the Rangers.
"Everybody was really concerned, even immediately before the game," leftfielder Matt Joyce said. "He was having some real health issues. Everyone kind of was looking around like, 'Oh, God, what do we do if he can't go?' "
But in epitomizing the Rays' resilience Saturday, Price battled through it, preserving the bullpen by throwing six innings. And his teammates rallied behind him for a 5-4 come-from-behind victory in front of a charged crowd of 30,364 at Tropicana Field.
"It's huge," Price said. "This team, we don't give up."
First baseman James Loney ripped a two-run double in the eighth to lift the Rays to their third straight win, tying their best start ever at 4-2. Joyce had a two-run homer, and Yunel Escobar — who agreed to a two-year extension Saturday — hit a solo homer. The bullpen was stellar again, including Grant Balfour's 1-2-3 ninth for his first save.
But the Rays tipped their caps to Price for a giving them a chance.
"Truly, I don't even know how he did it," manager Joe Maddon said.
Said Joyce: "You can't say enough about him."
Price said he wished he could have pitched better after allowing four runs on nine hits (six with two outs) in a 99-pitch outing. But he knew just taking the mound saved the bullpen from having to piece nine innings together. (Lefty Cesar Ramos said he was "on call.") Price played it by ear, feeling a little better as he began his preparation in the weight room about 4 p.m.
"If I had to make my decision at 1, 2 or 3, I wouldn't have thrown," he said.
The Rays, down 3-0 after two innings, chipped away against right-hander Nick Martinez, who made his big-league debut. Escobar homered in the third, Joyce in the fourth. Joyce said the "pretty-much sellout crowd" — on Wil Myers bobblehead night — brought a lot of energy.
"Amazing," he said.
And the Rays believed — even after stranding the tying run on third in the seventh — they would pull through.
Myers led off the eighth with a walk. Ben Zobrist moved him to second with a bunt. After Ball 1 to Evan Longoria, veteran left-hander Neal Cotts intentionally walked him to face the lefty Loney.
"I liked it," Loney said. "Another guy on base, more RBI chance, winning run on base. Got to love that."
Loney, who doubled and walked twice in his previous three plate appearances, saw a fastball move over the plate and drilled it over the head of leftfielder Shin-Soo Choo. That put a smile on the face of Price, who said he felt better after the game, "since we won."
"A 50 percent David is a (heck) of a lot better than anybody else," Ramos said. "And that's what he showed (Saturday). Imagine if he was healthy?"
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]pabay.com.