NEW YORK — His nerves were so bad he couldn't throw a strike in the bullpen, he was shaking so much he thought he might tumble off the hallowed mound, and he had trouble breathing throughout his first inning.
And LHP David Price still made a dazzling major-league debut Sunday that left both clubhouses buzzing.
"I was very impressed with what he did today," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
"He threw the ball extremely well," Yankees All-Star Derek Jeter said. "It was his first time pitching, right? I'm sure he was a little bit nervous, but it didn't show. He's got a very bright future."
Price, 23, worked 51/3 innings, retiring his first six batters, allowing three hits (including a homer to Jeter) and striking out four. He mixed a fastball that was clocked routinely at 96 mph (and hit 97) and a tight slider that hitters seemed to have trouble picking up.
"Not bad," Price said. "It was fun, a lot of fun."
Price, the top pick in the 2007 draft, zoomed through the minors, starting his pro career at Class A in late May and pitching at each level. The Rays plan to use him out of the bullpen — for now — with the seemingly likely possibility of a start in the Sept. 23 doubleheader at Baltimore.
Maddon lauded Price for what he did (including 55 strikes in 87 pitches) and how he did it, mentioning the composure he showed. If only he knew what was really going on.
"I think my first 20 pitches in the pen, I didn't throw a strike. So I thought it was going to be a rough day from the start of that," Price said. "But I settled down pretty good, and I started breathing better out there. My first inning was rough."
He felt better when he came out of the dugout for his next one. "I wasn't shaking anymore — I felt like I was about to fall off the mound that first inning," he said. "After that I felt fine. I felt like I was pitching back at Vanderbilt, back at my high school.
"It felt good to be out there. I wasn't nervous anymore. I felt like I belonged out there."
HAPPY HOMECOMING: Rookie OF Fernando Perez, who grew up in and around New York and played at Columbia University, said starting three games at Yankee Stadium and hitting his first homer in front of family and friends was "totally surreal."
MEDICAL MATTERS: CF B.J. Upton's strained left quad is only slightly better, but he's going to try to return during the Red Sox series. … RHP Troy Percival said new muscle relaxers helped his stiff back and he is available.
HURRICANE WATCH: LHP Scott Kazmir's family in Houston made it through Hurricane Ike safely, but his parents' house sustained significant damage, with most of the roof shingles torn off and trees uprooted; the house was flooded and has no power. His parents will move into his house, about 15 minutes away, that got through relatively unscathed. "It was crazy," Kazmir said. "You just feel helpless because you can't do anything about it."
MISCELLANY: The Rays went 11-for-86 with runners in scoring position on the nine-game trip. … 2B Akinori Iwamura can't be sad to see Yankee Stadium close; he was hitless in his final 26 at-bats. … RHP Edwin Jackson's two-inning start was his shortest since June 2007. … New Lightning coach Barry Melrose, who claims "I was a better baseball player than a hockey player," is scheduled to throw out the first pitch tonight. Hall of Famer Wade Boggs and Orlando Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard have Tuesday and Wednesday. … 1B Carlos Pena, who had been leading major-league first basemen with a .999 fielding percentage, made his second error. … Maddon had veteran Cliff Floyd take out the lineup card. … Called-up RHPs Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot join the team today. … Principal owner Stuart Sternberg will be on hand for tonight's game.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8801. View his blog at blogs.sptimes.com/rays/.