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Tampa Bay Rays' David Price makes his pitch for All-Star start

ST. PETERSBURG

Did you see it, Joe? Did you hear about it?

Did someone text to tell you about the strikeouts? Did someone call to tell you about the stuff? Sure, you had better things to do and other players to worry about, but did someone tell you just how terrific David Price was on Wednesday night?

Did someone mention in passing how he struck out Kevin Youkilis on three straight fastballs in the first inning, the last one being a 96 mph flash of fire that might have left his catcher, Kelly Shoppach, with an extra lifeline on his left palm?

In the hours before your game, did you see how Price struck out Adrian Beltre swinging three times? Or the fourth inning, when he threw nine straight fastballs for nine straight strikes and got two strikeouts and a popup against David Ortiz, Youkilis and Beltre? Did they tell you about Price's command? Did they tell you about his velocity? Did they tell you about the 10 strikeouts? Did they tell you that he was all fastballs almost all the time?

Just checking, Joe.

While they were at it, did anyone tell you that the debate over which pitcher should start for the American League in next week's All-Star Game should be over?

After a performance such as this, how in the world can Yankees manager Joe Girardi justify giving the ball to anyone else?

Even before Wednesday night, Price had a pretty good argument for starting. This, however, was a closing argument at 96 mph. To sum up, this was one of the most talented young pitchers in the game handling the depleted-but-still-dangerous Boston batting order. Of his 111 pitches, Price threw "right at 100'' fastballs. It was as if Price were pitching to make a point.

If so, he did.

"I just wanted to make them beat my best pitch,'' said Price, who said he felt more command of his fastball than at any point this year.

Oh, Price did give up eight hits, and the Red Sox got a couple of runs off him in the Rays' 6-4 victory. But for most of the night, Price was dominant enough to make his fans stand and applaud, and everyone else's fans pay attention.

For starters, that should be good enough to convince Girardi.

Everyone else, too.

Boston centerfielder Mike Cameron said after the game that Price should be the starter.

"Yeah, I would think so,'' Cameron said. "Of all the pitchers, he has probably been the most consistent when you look at all of his starts." Cameron also used the words "explosiveness'' and "overpowering'' in describing Price.

Why should Price start the All-Star Game?

• Because his 12 victories lead the American League, that's why.

• Because his peers think he should start. Price's 290 votes in the player voting were 84 more than any other AL pitcher in the game.

• Because his ERA is 2.42, which is second to Cliff Lee (by 0.04). On the other hand, Lee has won one-third less often.

• Because his record could be even better. In his four losses this year, the Rays have scored a total of five runs.

• Because for all the talk about how other pitchers have larger resumes, Price is 20-8 over the past 12 months.

• Because baseball could use the buzz of another budding star.

• And because performances such as Wednesday night's leave you wondering just how good Price might be before it is all over.

"Absolutely, I'd start him," said fellow Rays pitcher James Shields. "One hundred percent. He deserves it. He's been the most consistent pitcher in the American League. I think his dominance is the best in the American League. I think he's probably the best pitcher in the American League as of right now."

For Price, maturity has arrived with the speed of one of his fastballs. This time last year he was 3-3 with an earned-run average of 4.57, and when people talked about his expectations, it was about how short he had fallen of them. Baseball expected microwave stardom from Price, remember? This year, Price has been everything that was expected.

At 24, it's easy to wonder just how good Price might turn out to be. Frankly, there are worse job prospects than being his agent.

"He's an All-Star, but he hasn't even scratched the surface yet," said pitching coach Jim Hickey. "He can be as good as anyone there is. He can be better than anyone there is."

Rays manager Joe Maddon says that in his estimation, Price is only halfway to being the pitcher he can be. He says Price is a "top 25" pitcher now. Eventually, he says, Price can be "top five."

Is that good enough for him to start the All-Star Game?

Here's a better question: Who deserves it more?

Lee? His body of work and his control are arguments for him. Still, Lee has won only eight games, and he finished 104 votes behind Price in the player balloting. If Lee starts, it will largely be because he was around for the 2008 game and Price wasn't.

Andy Pettitte? Come on. Pettitte wasn't even on the original All-Star team. He made it as a replacement.

Jon Lester? A fine pitcher, but he hasn't won as many games, and his ERA isn't as good as Price's.

"Yeah, I'd start him,'' Hickey said. "I think it would do a lot for the game. He's young, he's exciting, and he's doing well. … I'd give him the ball."

How about it, Joe? Do you see a better option? And if so, have you considered a different optometrist?

Tampa Bay Rays' David Price makes his pitch for All-Star start 07/07/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 8, 2010 7:54am]
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