ATLANTA — Left-hander David Price had a large contingent of family and friends make the drive from the Nashville area to see him face his favorite childhood team Tuesday night.
And in the Rays' 10-4 win over the Braves at Turner Field, Price certainly kept all his fans on the edge of their seats.
Price battled through five innings, pulling off Houdini-like escapes to pick up his 10th win of the season. He stranded five runners in scoring position and gave up just two earned runs.
"The whole game was a jam," manager Joe Maddon said. "We had baserunners all over the place all day. Fortunately, David just has the stuff to be able to pitch through those moments, and he did."
Price left with a two-run lead and the Rays added five more to blow the game open as he became the fastest Ray to reach double-digit victories, passing Rolando Arrojo's feat completed June 17, 1998.
Price said the honor is "awesome," but he's more concerned with how he's been pitching the last few weeks than his stat line. Though Price has won his last three starts, he holds himself to a very high standard; he said his fastball command has been off, resulting in him walking eight over his last two outings, and not lasting longer than six in both.
"I've had a rough stretch here the last month," Price said. "I'm throwing well, I just haven't thrown as well as I wanted to. I can throw better. I want to get back to that point to where I was at the beginning of the year. But this is Major League Baseball, it's tough to be consistent the whole time."
Before Price even took the mound Tuesday, he had to wait - and wait. The Rays sat through a 2-hour, 20-minute rain delay, watching the first part of the Yankees' win over the Phillies on the centerfield scoreboard.
"It feels like we just got done playing a doubleheader,'' catcher John Jaso said. "It was a long game, a good win.''
Tampa Bay (41-23) needed its win to stay tied atop the AL East with the Yankees.
The Rays did so partly thanks to a four-run first inning, pouncing on Braves hard-luck starter Kenshin Kawakami, who fell to 0-9. Carl Crawford started the rally by reaching on an error with one out, and Evan Longoria ripped a two-run homer, extending his majors-long streak of games reaching base safely to 32. Then with two outs, Sean Rodriguez hit a two-run double, extending his career-long hitting streak to 15 games.
Of all Price's great escapes Tuesday, his biggest moment — and arguably the tipping point of the game — came when he got out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam in the second inning. With the Rays up 5-1, Price struck out Kawakami and hot-hitting second baseman Martin Prado and got rookie phenom Jason Heyward to ground out to first to thwart the threat.
"It probably helped," Price said of the inning. "It gave me more confidence in my stuff right there."
Price (10-2) credited the Rays defense for helping him, too. There was second baseman Rodriguez racing into foul territory for a spectacular sliding catch to end the third. And in the fourth, Crawford made a sliding catch near the leftfield line.
Still, the Braves kept putting pressure on Price, scoring one in the fifth and bringing the go-ahead run to the plate with two outs. But Price came up with another big strikeout, getting pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad swinging on a 3-and-2 pitch. Of Price's seven strikeouts, five came with runners in scoring position.
Maddon said Price had some "awesome stuff," including a "good curveball" he got Conrad out with. It's just been locating the fastball where he wants to that Price wants to improve on.
"That's been my problem the last month, is fastball command," Price said. "If I can get back to that, I'd be fine. It's too hard to pitch against guys who are (ahead) 2-0, 2-1 as opposed to 1-2, 0-2. It's probably been the staple of my struggles, and it's something I can fix."
In the sixth, the Rays added two insurance runs on a bases-loaded single by Ben Zobrist, scoring Jaso and Crawford, who slipped and fell halfway down the third-base line before hustling to elude catcher Brian McCann with a crafty headfirst slide.
"I don't think anybody else would have scored after falling like he had," Maddon said. "Fortunately, the ball was off line and he was able to get in the inside corner. Very unusual play, but his athleticism permitted it to happen."
Using a football analogy, Maddon quipped, "He stayed in bounds, showed the ball and he broke the plane at the pylon."
Crawford also got the Rays going in the seventh, hitting an RBI triple and scoring on Longoria's double. And Tampa Bay put away a game that ended at 1 a.m., when many of the announced 30,448 fans were likely already put to bed.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.