ST. PETERSBURG — As endings go, if that's what it was, David Price had envisioned it differently.
Given the possibility that Wednesday might have been his last start at the Trop before being traded, the Rays ace had hoped to go out celebrating a complete-game victory, not walking off the mound after allowing a home run and being pulled with two outs to go.
But as much as Price was focused on finishing the game, which still ended up a 5-1 win, he also acknowledged the potential that it was goodbye. As the 23,671 fans throughout Tropicana Field stood and roared for Price as he neared the dugout, he tipped his cap, then waved in gratitude for their support.
"If this is my last game here, thanks," he explained later.
There are no indications any deal is imminent. But there is significant speculation throughout baseball that the Rays, saddled with a majors-worst 32-48 record in an unexpectedly disappointing season, will trade Price, and soon, seeking to maximize his value in acquiring premium young talent.
Nearly a dozen teams had scouts at Wednesday's game, including two each from the Blue Jays and Royals. The Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers and Giants are among other teams considered serious possibilities.
And with the Rays heading out on a long trip and Price's next two starts slated for Tuesday in New York and July 6 in Detroit, there is some reason to the rumblings.
Price insisted he doesn't know what's going to happen either, and he was only thinking it might have been his Trop farewell because of what he read and heard from reporters.
"You guys do, so what am I supposed to think?" he said.
If it was, he went out in vintage style with a dominant outing. He allowed only five hits and the one run, improving to 6-7, 3.63 while striking out 11, the fifth straight game he was in double-digit K's, the first to do so in 10 years.
"I've never been as good as I am right now, period," Price said. "Not in 2012, not in college, not in high school. This is the best pitcher I've ever been. I feel in complete control on the mound at all times with all my pitches on both sides of the plate. That's tough to do."
That sounds like either a pretty good for-hire ad or a salutatory goodbye. Either way, it was impressive.
Manager Joe Maddon feigned ignorance to any potential symbolism in Price's outing, preferring to focus just on what he did. "David," Maddon said, "was really, really, really good today."
What made the day even better was that the Rays backed Price's effort with a strong overall performance.
They came out aggressive, took advantage of some Pittsburgh mistakes and grabbed an early 3-0 lead. Third baseman Evan Longoria made a highlights-worthy catch of a foul ball before hopping the wall into the stands, Desmond Jennings another just before hitting the centerfield wall. They added on late, including Kevin Kiermaier getting down a two-out bunt for a run. Ben Zobrist made several slick plays filling in at shortstop. Nobody hit into a double play. Jake McGee got the final two outs.
"We just executed well today," Maddon said.
As badly as Price wanted to finish — "something I wanted to do, for sure" — he understood Maddon coming to get him after Andrew McCutchen launched what was his 120th pitch.
And, in a way, it might turn out to be fitting.
"My last batter at Vanderbilt was a home run," Price said. "My last hitter last year was a home run (in the playoffs) when I thought I was gone. You guys think I'm out of here now, and my last hitter for the Rays was a home run again. So take that into consideration."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]ay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.