ST. PETERSBURG — David Price has stood tall on the Tropicana Field mound in his Rays uniform and pitched through many pressure-packed, stressful situations with nary a hint of fear.
But standing about 100 feet away Wednesday, in front of an MLB Network camera by the visiting dugout, he just about let you see him sweat. Literally. The preamble and chatter were over, and the announcement of the American League Cy Young Award was, finally, seconds away.
"I was just hoping I wasn't sweating through my suit," Price said. "My feet were numb. I had so many emotions going through me. I was thinking everything at that point."
Price admitted this was a different, more difficult type of pressure than he was used to.
And an incredible feeling of joy and satisfaction when he was named the winner of the award for the league's best pitcher by the slimmest margin in more than 40 years, finishing four points ahead of Detroit's Justin Verlander. Rays closer Fernando Rodney finished fifth.
"I wanted it very bad," Price said. "This is awesome."
Price, 27, is the first Rays player to win the award, considered the second most prestigious in baseball behind Most Valuable Player. Joe Maddon won two manager of the year awards, and Evan Longoria and Jeremy Hellickson were both voted rookie of the year.
Price, who finished second in the 2010 voting and was more disappointed than he let on publicly, had strong credentials this season, leading the league with a 2.56 ERA and sharing the top spot with 20 wins.
Just as he downplayed talk of the award during the final months of the season, he insisted he kept — relatively — calm throughout Wednesday, following what amounted to his usual routine on a day he is starting:
Breakfast at his Tampa home, a trip to Starbucks (venti iced caramel macchiato, no-whip, extra caramel), a haircut and hours of video games, in this case the new Call of Duty: Black Ops II, then a drive over to the Trop.
"I probably had the same butterflies in my stomach," he said.
But he first started thinking that this was different when he sat down for the haircut — a buddy comes to his house to do it — then it hit him when it was time to drive over, so much so he handed the keys to his girlfriend and asked her to drive.
Despite his impressive season, Price figured the voting would be "extremely close," and he had that right, too.
Of the 28 ballots cast, before the start of the playoffs, by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, Price got 14 first-place votes and Verlander got 13 (with Rodney getting the other), and both Price and Verlander got 13 second-place votes, so the difference essentially came down to one ballot. Among those voting for Price was Foxsports.com's Jon Morosi, who is based in Detroit and had one of the two votes from that chapter.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said what set Price apart was the consistency of his season in which he not only won 20 of his 31 starts (and lost only five) but pitched seven or more innings 23 times, and allowed two or fewer runs 23 times, and did so against rugged competition.
"Just an incredible display of consistency," Maddon said from California. "About as consistent as you can possibly be."
Also, how he goes about it.
"David has an excellent work ethic," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "And he's as good a teammate as he is a pitcher."
Price said he felt it was essential to get his 20th win, which he did on the final Sunday of the season in Chicago, and in a game the Rays needed to win to keep their then-faint playoff hopes alive, to make his case.
"The opponents we face and everything, I feel like if people could follow this team around for a year and see everything we go through to understand it's not easy over here," he said. "And I feel the way I threw the ball was very well."
Price called it a team award and said credit should go as much to the other players, pitching coach Jim Hickey, Maddon, the trainers and the front office, and even said it could be good for the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa. His teammates returned the praise, slamming him with Tweets and text messages.
Price will get a nice plaque at a January banquet in New York that he will probably give to his mom and dad, Debbie and Bonnie, to display in their new house in Tennessee; a bonus; and likely a hefty increase, maybe another $1.5 million or so, that will push his 2013 arbitration-eligible salary close to $10 million. (He made $4.35 million this season.)
And he'll get questions about whether this will change his focus (he assured it won't) and what he can do for an encore (he'd like to win again), and about staying in Tampa Bay long term (he'd love to, but understands it's a business).
But Wednesday night, when the interviews and conference calls and news conferences were over, he walked out of the Trop in that new suit — a beige plaid, custom-designed Raphael ensemble — more relieved than anything.
And honored to be considered the best.
"That's why I play the game,' he said. "I don't do this for the paycheck, I don't do this to be an average big-leaguer. I want to leave my mark on baseball. That's why I do it. I said that in an interview back in 2008, when people think about baseball and people think about pitching, I want them to think about David Price."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]