Rays stun Sox in Game 7? Price-less!
Young lefty gets final four outs to clinch AL pennant
ST. PETERSBURG -- In the Rays' improbable 2008 season, it was only fitting that the young club would forgo tradition and punch its ticket to the World Series on an arm whose career consisted of five regular-season games.
"I was thinking about that when he was on the mound," Rays reliever Dan Wheeler said of Sunday's de facto closer, David Price. "And I'm like, 'Who would have matched this out?' Price, the kid who started out in A-ball this year, to be closing out Game 7?"
Added equally awed teammate Jonny Gomes: "We got a freakin' 23-year-old closing this whole thing. I mean, who wrote that book?"
Even if somebody did, chances are the ending wouldn't have been nearly this good.
When Price entered Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Sunday night, to say he walked into a heated scenario would be a marked understatement.
The Red Sox were down two runs and threatening with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning. Rays manager Joe Maddon had already used three relievers for the inning's first two outs, and with Boston left-handed hitter J.D. Drew up, the skipper made the call for Price.
For the Rays, their Price was right.
The top pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, Price struck out Drew to end the inning. After consulting with catcher Dioner Navarro, Maddon rolled the dice again and ran the lefty out for the ninth inning, and Price paid him back in spades. Throwing heat in the upper 90s coupled with a devastating slider, Price erased a leadoff walk with a pair of strikeouts and a game-ending ground ball.
"That's why he's going to be here for a long time," Rays designated hitter and resident veteran Cliff Floyd said. "That's why he's going to be something to contend with. He's special; he really is."
How many 23-year-olds make the jump from the Minors to the big leagues in less than four months? And how many of those elusive few notch their first career save in the postseason?
"It's not just a pennant, it's Game 7," Wheeler said. "That just shows you what kind of kid he is and what kind of pitcher. The future is very bright for this kid."
Sunday night -- and into early Monday morning -- wasn't so bad, either.
"I thought pitching to [Mets pitcher] Pedro Martinez [in a rehab start] was going to be the highlight of my year," Price said. "That's obviously one of the highlights. But this? I mean it was unreal."
And the image of his teammates flooding the field and mobbing him in a victory mosh pit is one that Price will never forget.
"I'm going to have good dreams for the rest of my life," he said, "just because of this moment."
For Maddon, it was the way that Price handled previous moments that allowed the skipper to even permit sending such an inexperienced arm to the hill.
"I knew that David had a lot of emotional bullets left," Maddon said. "[I] talked to him before the game, and he's not impacted by the situation. So there's Drew [at the plate] -- the right guy, I thought, was David Price."
And if Sunday's performance was any indication, Price could be the right guy for the Rays for a long time.
"He's got a chance to rewrite a lot of the record books here if he stays healthy, I'll tell you that," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "I would expect him to do so."
But a smiling, champagne-soaked Price had just one record on his mind Sunday night: helping the Rays secure a franchise-first World Series berth.
"Nothing compares to this," Price said. "This is incredible."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.