ST. PETERSBURG — As the cameras flashed in unison around the Tropicana Field seating bowl for David Price's first World Series pitch Thursday night, the spotlight was on the rookie left-hander earlier than expected.
With the heart of the Phillies order coming up and the Rays needing to protect a four-run seventh-inning lead in Game 2, Rays manager Joe Maddon once again put the fate of Tampa Bay in the hands of a 23-year-old with just five regular-season appearances under his belt.
Just 16 months after the Rays made Price the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, he made his World Series debut, the quickest top pick to do so by nearly four seasons.
With just five months of pro baseball experience, Price had to shut down left-handed Phillies sluggers Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in a near must-win game for the Rays.
He got out of the seventh okay, striking out Howard after walking Utley, but the real story was how Maddon had faith that Price could finish the game — and throw 42 pitches.
"I was nervous," Price said. "I don't usually sweat out there, and my hat looks like I went swimming with it. It's definitely different."
Price's first World Series effort didn't register a save, but it sealed a 4-2 victory. And despite allowing two runs — only one, a pinch-hit Eric Bruntlett solo homer, was earned — he threw the game's final 21/3 innings for the longest relief outing to finish a World Series win in 11 years.
"I wanted him to avoid Utley and Howard again," Maddon said of Price, who spent most of the season as a starter in the minors. "That was the thought all along, that if we got all the outs we needed to, we wouldn't see them again. But if he had to he was stretched out. The difference with him vs. other relief pitchers is that he's been stretched out."
Price, who held left-handed hitters to a .158 average this season, had to face Utley and Howard again — both times with the tying run at the plate in the ninth. But he struck out Utley swinging and induced Howard into a game-ending ground out to second.
"He's going to come out and throw strikes, and he's going to attack the hitter," Rays catcher Dioner Navarro said. "He throws 96, 97 (mph), and he's got a nasty slider so he's going to go after hitters, and he did a great job for us tonight again."