HOUSTON — There were plenty of superlatives expressed for just how good left-hander David Price was during Tuesday's anticipated return from the disabled list.
"Spectacular," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "A pretty complete performance."
"That's called Mr. Price," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "I mean, that's why he's a Cy Young winner, and he pitched like it."
But the most encouraging, and meaningful, words came from Price, who threw seven three-hit innings — in just 70 pitches — striking out a season-high 10 in an 8-0 win over the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
"That's probably the best I've felt on a baseball field maybe my entire life, honestly," Price said. "I feel like that's the most control I've had of a baseball game in a very long time. I think that was better than I threw at any point last year."
Price exceeded all expectations in his first start since mid May, when he went on the disabled list with a left triceps strain. Maddon had him limited to 90 pitches, saying if he went six innings, it'd be "outstanding," just wanting him to feel comfortable and in control.
But Price knew he was in for a special night when he felt good in his bullpen session. He said he was a bit nervous, his knees shaking until after he came into the dugout after a 1-2-3 first inning.
But Maddon said he had seen Price that under control, of both his emotions and pitches, and focused since last year's Cy Young season.
And with Price looking like an ace — attacking the strike zone, hitting the mid 90s with his fastball and issuing zero walks — it was an encouraging sign for a Rays rotation that is starting to come together.
Tampa Bay (45-39) has allowed 16 runs combined in its past nine games and posted back-to-back shutouts for the second time this season (and seventh time in club history).
"He's definitely going to bolster the rest of the pitching staff, everyone is going to gain a lot more confidence and courage from him being out there," Maddon said. "Moving forward, having him there, the anchor is back. It makes everybody better.
"For us to really get to the World Series this year, we have to pitch at a very high level. We're not going to do that without (Price) in there."
And the Rays offense gave Price more than enough support. Desmond Jennings provided the biggest spark with a two-run homer and tying a career high with four RBIs.
Maddon loved how Price hit 95-96 mph and commanded all of his pitches. He said Price could have gone longer in the game, but after much debate, they decided the seven up and downs were enough for his first outing.
Price has pitched in much bigger games, with bigger stakes, but considering his early season struggles and the trying six weeks on the disabled list, he said this was the most satisfied he has been after an outing.
"The way the first half of my season went, the first nine starts, makes it kind of tough to do anything — sleep at night," Price said. "That's not me.
"And I felt like I got back to myself (Tuesday). It felt good."