ST. PETERSBURG — It's the most famous moment in the history of the Rays: Second baseman Akinori Iwamura racing to second base to record the final out of the 2008 American League Championship Series against the rival Red Sox.
And standing on the mound inside an insane Tropicana Field, arms raised, screaming, waiting to be mobbed by teammates was a 23-year-old rookie named David Price.
That October night, Price put the finishing touches on the Rays' incredible run to a World Series. This afternoon on the very same mound, Price hopes to help the Rays take the first step in a return to the Fall Classic by starting Game 1 of the playoffs against the Rangers.
But this is not the same David Price.
"Completely different," he said.
The kid in 2008 reared back and threw as hard as he could, not a bad plan when you can reach close to 100 mph with a fastball. These days Price, still armed with that high-90s heater, pitches to hitters, not the radar gun.
"Two years ago, I felt like I was more of a thrower," Price said. "Now I've developed into more of a pitcher. … I feel like I'm really night and day of what I used to be."
In that two-year span, Price has developed into a true top-of-the-rotation ace, going 19-6 this season with a 2.72 ERA, starting for the American League in the All-Star Game and earning serious Cy Young consideration. When Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton was asked about Price, he smiled and said, "He's good. Next?"
Still, after all Price has done — five appearances in the 2008 postseason, the All-Star start, the win that clinched a playoff spot the day after he took flak from fans for criticizing attendance — he admits something surprising.
"(Today) is the biggest game I've ever been a part of coming in," Price said.
Actually, he admits something else you wouldn't expect from someone who has accomplished so much: he's nervous.
"Going into the game, I'm sure I'm going to have nerves," Price said. "So is (Rangers starting pitch) Cliff Lee. You're not human if you don't have them when you out there."
Don't, however, confuse nervousness for fright.
"This is fun," Price said. "This is what we live for. This is why we worked so hard in the offseason and spring training and the whole year. This is what we've worked for all year long, and you're going to have some nerves."
Most of all, Price hopes his newest postseason story picks up where the last one left off.