Sunday, February 18, 2018
Sports

Price, Rays get playoff payback against Rangers

ARLINGTON, Texas — It was over now, and David Price had slayed the dragon, and he had propelled his Rays into the real playoffs.

It was then that he glanced to his right, catching the eye of teammate Evan Longoria. The two shouted at each other, and they embraced, and they did not let go.

There they were, the best pitcher and the best everyday player. Together, they had delivered this moment of triumph. Together, they had gone into this Chamber of Horrors that is the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and they had faced these grave diggers known as the Texas Rangers.

This time, they won.

This time, they eliminated the Rangers.

It was the two of them, the heart and the soul of this team, that had delivered the Rays' biggest victory of the year, a 5-2 victory over Texas. It was Price and Longo, or Longo and Price, retracing the steps of a vision by Price.

How cool is this? Price went to sleep early Sunday night, and shortly after waking up Monday, he was thinking about the game. He had an image of himself throwing a complete game, then looking not to his catcher, but to Longoria.

Twenty-four hours later, it came true. The old friends embraced for the longest time, and other players jumped on them and clapped them on the back, and still, they did not let go. Tears were running down Price's face.

In some ways, that has become the snapshot of the season. Both players have withstood injury and pedestrian statistics. And both were stars Monday night.

In particular, Price was superb. There have been nights when he has been more in command, and there have been nights his velocity was better. But has Price ever been more competitive than he was against the Rangers? Put it this way: If Joe Maddon had tried to remove Price from the game, he would have needed the jaws of life.

Price has never won a game this big this decisively. Every time the Rangers would try to get something started, he would snuff it out. This was his game, and he wasn't coming out, and he wasn't backing up.

"He wanted this game as much as he wanted oxygen," Maddon said later. "He wanted to win, and he wanted to be the guy tonight. He has trained to be that person he was tonight since he was a kid."

As a team, the Rays had a little debt to repay. Over the past few years, no one has given them more misery than the Rangers. In 2010, the Rays season ended in the playoffs … at the hands of the Rangers. In 2011, the Rays' season ended in the playoffs … at the hands of the Rangers.

There was something about Texas that made Tampa Bay unravel. During those two series, it was J.P. Howell giving up a key double to Josh Hamilton. It was Kelly Shoppach throwing into leftfield. And it was Price, going 0-3 in the two series with a 4.66 ERA.

Despite that, Price could not wait to get a shot at this lineup again. Say what you wish about Price, who has had an uneven year, one when he started poorly, when he was injured, when he came back hot, when he cooled off. He won only nine times in the 162 regular-season games; last year, he won 20.

Then there is this: For his career, Price was 1-7 against the Rangers with a 5.57 ERA. Most pitchers want to run from a matchup like that. Price wanted the ball, and he wanted to keep it.

For all of that, however, this was the pitcher you wanted Price to be all along. Oh, he started out searching a little, and then he found his rhythm. By the time he took a 3-1 lead — on a two-run homer by Longoria, of course — he was in his groove. And every time the Rangers started something, Price stepped on it.

"I know it's been a rough year for him," said Longoria, who was 3-for-4. "He's had his ups and downs. But he's pitched brilliantly since he came back. In a moment like that, the emotions start to boil to the surface.

"That's what an ace does. That's what a leader of the staff does. It was awesome to watch."

Awesome. Has anyone used that word about Price when he has faced the Rangers?

It's funny. It seems a foregone conclusion that sooner or later, the Rays will trade Price. The money will get too big, and the prospects will be too enticing.

But Sunday night, Price envisioned he and Longo going out together, the way Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera went out. In the moment, in the middle of an embrace, it was easy for the rest of us to consider it, too.

And now comes Cleveland.

"Our goal in spring training was to get to the postseason and then see what happens. I don't think anyone wants to play us. We're extremely dangerous."

Just wondering. Is there any way that Price could throw again Wednesday?

And, if possible, Friday?

Comments
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