ST. PETERSBURG — He stopped the nonsense. He stood up to the pressure. He opened the champagne bottles.
As much as anything, that sums up David Price's final argument for the Cy Young Award.
One more time Price gave his franchise a night to remember. This is what he does. Let others talk about victories, and let others talk about statistics. This year Price has been all about standing up in the moments that matter.
And so it came down to Price to pitch his team into the postseason. Of course it did. Given the year he has had, given the challenges he has met, how could it have been anyone else? Think of the biggest games, and the fiercest opponents, and the most difficult circumstances, and time after time the Rays have looked to Price's left arm to be the equalizer.
Tuesday night was no different. The Rays had lost two straight, and the hitting had disappeared again, and it seemed the postseason might be three games old before the Rays finally clinched their spot in it. The Yankees were still at their heels, and the Red Sox wouldn't go away.
And with eight shutout innings, Price made everything good again.
Which, by the way, would make for a dandy business card should Price ever find himself in need.
Look, it isn't hard to make an argument that Price deserves consideration for the Cy Young. He is now 19-6, which means he has set the franchise record for victories five times this year. Let someone else match that. He has a 2.73 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), and opponents are hitting .222 against him.
So, yes, Price has fine numbers, worthy numbers.
With Price, however, there is a lot more to the story.
Lately there has been quite a debate about the American League Cy Young Award. Perhaps you have heard. There are those who will argue for the Yankees' CC Sabathia because he has won more games than anyone else. And there are those who will argue for the Mariners' Felix Hernandez, who hasn't won nearly enough. Frankly, Boston's Jon Lester ought to be in the discussion, too.
In this race Sabathia is probably the name to beat. Win 21 games while working for the New York Yankees, and by golly, people are going to notice. Never mind that he had a team of All-Stars to provide his run support. Never mind that his ERA and batting average against are the worst of any of the contenders.
Then there is Hernandez, the new darling of the stat lovers. And let's agree on this. Hernandez's numbers are insane. He has by far the best in the league, which makes you wonder if the Mariners' hitters are mad at him. But here's the thing: Hernandez is 13-12 on the season.
Now, there are those who say that shouldn't matter, that wins and losses mean nothing at all, that they are too random to even be considered. Which is, of course, poppycock. What if Hernandez were, say, 7-18 with the same impressive numbers? He should win the award then, and he shouldn't win it now?
Look, it is true that victories aren't the most telling indicator of a pitcher's success, but if wins don't matter, why is it that most of the good pitchers have so many of them? Yes, there is something to winning a game. There is something to getting a tough out when an opposing runner is on base. There is something to winning a crucial game in a pennant race. There is something to matching an opposing ace pitch for pitch. There is something to stopping a losing streak. There is something to winning when you have a half-game lead in the division.
More than anything, this is Price's case for the award. He has outdueled Cliff Lee. He has beaten Sabathia. He has gone 9-2 against the AL East, the division with the most money and best hitters in baseball. He is 11-5 against teams with winning records, better than either Sabathia or Hernandez.
Tuesday night, just after teammate Matt Garza had dumped a tray of frozen beer over Price's head in celebration, Price was asked which he preferred: the big statistics or the big moments.
"The moments, absolutely," Price said. "If you can endure that big game, that's the stuff people are going to remember. That's what you want to play for. That's what you watch growing up as a little kid, watching those games on ESPN in the postseason."
That's better than a great ERA or WHIP?
"Until a year ago, I didn't even know what WHIP was," Price said.
So whom do you vote for?
Frankly, I vote for Price. No, not because he's local. But because he has outpitched Sabathia. And because Hernandez can't match the number of essential pitches, essential innings or essential games. Blame it on the Mariners' lack of support this year, but the truth is, Hernandez wasn't as important to the 2010 season as Price was.
This year, the story belonged to Price.
The award should, too.