ST. PETERSBURG — Thursday's return to Tropicana Field could not have gone much better for David Price. He allowed only one unearned run and one hit in an eight-inning outing that was as dominant as he ever had in a Tampa Bay uniform.
"Probably as good as I've pitched," Price said.
But it could not have gone any better for the Rays, who got just as dazzling a performance from Alex Cobb and two relievers, and hung on for a 1-0 victory that meant more to them than any bragging rights over their former ace.
"For him, outside of it being a win, he did everything he could have done," said third baseman Evan Longoria, Price's closest and longest-time friend on the Rays. "We saw what it was like to be on the other end of David Price, and fortunately, we took advantage of their one mistake and got a win."
It was the first time in the Rays' 17-season, 2,717-game history that they won with only one hit, and it came at an opportune time. They snapped a four-game losing streak, improved to 62-65 and moved back within seven games of the second American League wild-card spot as they open a stretch of 26 straight games versus AL East foes. (It also was the first time the Tigers lost allowing one hit.)
"That was a game we needed to win, and we did," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
As much talk as there was going into the game about the odd circumstances — Price, the career-long Ray, coming back to the Trop to face his old mates three weeks to the day since a three-way trade sent him to Detroit — the action on the field was all business, both sides acknowledging a little initial awkwardness, neither side breaking character.
Before the game, that was not as much the case. During warmups, Price approached Cobb in the outfield and hugged him, and they wished each other luck. "Never done that," Price said.
As Price took the mound for the bottom of the first, the Trop P.A. system blared his walkup music (Shawty Lo's Feels Good to be Here) and most of the crowd of 19,189 stood and cheered.
"Kind of had to step off (the rubber)," Price said. "That was a good feeling."
It was different in the stands, too. Price's parents, Debbie and Bonnie (in his new Tigers cap), and agent Bo McKinnis watched for the first time from the third-base side with the visiting team family and friends. Price's girlfriend, Tiffany Smith, sat with Cobb's fiancee, Kelly Reynolds, in "neutral territory" seats behind home plate.
The key moment came early. After Price retired leadoff man Desmond Jennings, Ben Zobrist hit a routine grounder that shortstop Eugenio Suarez gloved, but he threw errantly to first. Five pitches later, Price made arguably his only mistake, leaving a back-door cutter over too much of the plate, and Brandon Guyer lashed it to right-center for a run-scoring triple.
"Glad I could get a big hit when the team needed it," Guyer said. "But without Cobb doing what he did, (it) wouldn't have mattered."
That was because Price didn't give up anything else after that, retiring the next 23 Rays in order, not even going to a three-ball count. He was so efficient through his first 100 pitches that Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Price would have worked the ninth and possibly a 10th inning.
"I can't remember a better game, honestly, which is funny," Cobb said. "He was perfect."
But Cobb was pretty close to perfect as well over his seven innings, allowing just two hits and two walks, striking out six (all swinging) and getting out of what little trouble he got into.
"That's Cobb at his best for me right there," Maddon said. "You could see the competitiveness about him in that game. We always talk about the tremendous competitor that he is, but it was definitely at its highest level. It was Defcon 1."
That wasn't quite enough for the Rays. Brad Boxberger needed a tremendous running and then diving catch in right from Kevin Kiermaier to escape the eighth after allowing a one-out double, and Jake McGee worked through a one-out single in the ninth.
"I always love to see offense, but going against a buddy in David, I think one unearned run in a complete game was all I could ask for," Cobb said. "That was probably the best-case scenario for us, from my side, at least."