Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Price, Rays have been a perfect match

ST. PETERSBURG

The kid would be here forever. The kid would never leave.

The kid would perch on the top step, and he would tug his cap down to his eyebrows, and he would blow his bubble gum into bubbles the size of his head. The kid would shoot his fist into the air at the nearest triumph, and he would grin that wide grin of his, and he would offer to be Joe Maddon's backup manager anytime Maddon needed it.

In that slice of David Price's soul, where he will remain a 12-year-old boy forever, he will be a Ray forever. He is as much a part of the franchise as the catwalk and the Rays Touch Tank and the plastic turf. If this were a movie, or this were a novel, Price would never go away. He would be eternal.

Ah, but this is a big boy's game, and they pay the players with big dollars.

So it is that Price is about to depart.

Soon, he is about to become someone else's pitcher.

With every pitch he throws, the reality becomes clearer. With every day that passes, Price's time grows shorter. Maybe he makes it to his next start, in New York. Maybe even to the one after that, in Detroit. But soon, Price's phone is going to ring, and somewhere else is going to be on the line.

They were always doomed to separate, this small-budget team and this big-budget pitcher. It isn't the player's fault, and it isn't the team's. It is just contrasting realities. As good as they have been for each other, they are no longer a financial fit.

Even Wednesday, in what may have been Price's going-out-of-business sale, you could not watch him without noticing the sign posts as they passed. Was that his last trip to the mound to start a game. Was that the final time Joe Maddon would pull him from a game. Was that his final tip of the hat to the crowd. His last strikeout. His last double-digit strikeout game.

And so it goes. Baseball is terrible at goodbyes. Everyone tries to block out the possibilities, and suddenly, they have happened, and the clubhouse has changed.

Could this have been it for Price? Could this be the last time the scoreboard will bark like a dog after a strikeout? Will this be the last time Price stands near the mound and applauds a play by Evan Longoria into his glove? Will this be the last time he dominates another lineup?

And if it is, will each side acknowledge what the other meant for its success?

"Thank you," Price said later. "These fans are awesome. They love us. They support us very well. If this is my last game here, thanks."

That goes both ways. No Rays player ever pulled harder for his teammates. No Rays player was ever more into the journey the bunch of them took together.

If this was goodbye, well, Price reminded everyone just what he was taking with him. The competitiveness. The fastball. The energy. The slider. The command. The cutter. The control. The curve. The slight annoyance that he carries with him.

Know this: At 28, Price says he has never been a better pitcher. The Rays certainly ought to get a nice return for him, or else why bother? True, he is only 16-15 in his past 31 decisions, but he works a lot of nights with shaky run support. A few more runs a game, and they may talk about Price for some time to come.

There were the games against the Yankees. The games against the Red Sox. There was the game against Texas last October when Price shut down the Rangers, and at the end, he and Longoria locked eyes at the end in triumph.

"He's been one of my best friends," Longoria said. "He's been the best teammate I've ever had. I've had some good teammates, but we've just been together for longer than anybody else. He's what baseball should be about. He really enjoys playing the game. He loves competing. In the end, that will tell the story to his career."

In the end, there will be another ballfield for Price, another uniform. He'll care about his next set of teammates, too. He'll love his next collection of fans. Some things never change.

But how long will it be before the Rays match what he brings with him onto the mound?

Late Wednesday, Price was asked what he would want fans to remember about him.

He thought a second.

"He cared," Price said. "Just … he cared. Period."

There are worse legacies, aren't there?

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