8/21/2014 9:03 P.M. ET
For Price, only one thing wrong with return to St. Pete
Tigers starter allows lone hit in homecoming, but it's the difference for Rays
By Hal Bodley / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Tampa Bay Rays threw a going-away-party for David Price at Tropicana Field on Thursday afternoon and the guest of honor blew out 23 candles in a row.
But it was one lit by former teammate Brandon Guyer in the first inning that flickered brightly and ruined Price's celebrated homecoming wearing a Detroit Tigers baseball suit.
The Rays managed only Guyer's booming first-inning triple that scored Ben Zobrist after he reached on shortstop Eugenio Suarez's throwing error to right-center. That was it.
The Rays wobbled off the field with a marvelous 1-0 victory even though their former ace retired the next 23 batters after Guyer's hit and has never pitched better.
It was only on July 31 when Tampa Bay made the difficult decision to trade the popular 28-year-old Price to Detroit.
It was also on that day when Rays fans began to look forward to this week when the Tigers would play at Tropicana Field and Price would pitch against the team for whom he won 82 games and the 2012 American League Cy Young Award.
Yes, he said, emotions were stirring when he ran to the mound to start the bottom of the first inning with the crowd of 19,189 welcoming him back with a standing ovation.
"I had to step off the mound when they kept chanting," he remembered. "That was a good feeling. I spent a long time here and the fans always had our backs through the ups and downs. I spent a long time (2008-2014) here.
"I'm glad to get this behind me. This is something I never thought I'd really have to do -- pitch against these guys in this ballpark, or pitch against them at any time. Now, it's over with and I've pitched in every American League park as an opposing pitcher."
Alex Cobb, one of Price's closest friends on the Rays, shut down the Tigers on two hits during seven innings. Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee pitched the last two innings.
Cobb has won seven straight decisions with a 1.99 earned run average during the span.
"All the stuff leading up to this game was awesome," he said. "Definitely, David deserved everything he got from the crowd, all the hype."
A script writer undoubtedly would have had Price winning his return, but even though it didn't turn out that way the afternoon did belong to him.
And in a sense, maybe the script was perfect. The team he grew up with eked out the win, but Price never before has allowed just one hit in a complete game. Not once did Rays' batters reach three-ball counts.
"There had to be a surreal moment between the combatants, David and Alex," said Tampa Bay skipper Joe Maddon. "I think it was even crazier for David, although he handled it wonderfully like you thought he would. Pitching a one-hitter is not so bad.
"It was just a crazy game, an interesting game. It will be talked about, I'm sure, ad nauseam the rest of today, into tonight and probably into tomorrow."
And days after.
Price, who spent much of his day off Monday playing golf at nearby Belleair Country Club, said he visualized what it would be like to pitch against his former teammates.
"There definitely were more emotions, but I handled them well," he said, staring across the Tigers' clubhouse as the players prepared for their early evening trip to Minneapolis. "Honestly, I never want to give up runs, but giving up that run in the first inning locked me in a little bit. I wish I hadn't given up that run, but that's baseball."
Such an excruciating loss is often difficult to put behind, but Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said this one will be easier because Cobb also pitched so well.
"David was outstanding, but Cobb was outstanding, too," said Ausmus. "You could probably make the argument that David was even a little better despite the fact that he got the loss.
"He was very impressive, very efficient. If we tie the game in the ninth, clearly he would've gone back out and who knows? If he kept the pitch count down in the ninth, he probably would have gone out for the 10th if we were still playing."
The Rays were walking their 1-0 tightrope in the eighth when .233 hitter Suarez doubled off Boxberger with one out.
Kevin Kiermaier, who'd replaced Zobrist in the right field to start the inning, saved the 1-0 lead when he made a spectacular diving catch on Rajai Davis' sinking fly ball. Boxberger struck out Ian Kinsler to end the threat.
"I was just happy to see the ball go in my glove right there, especially in a big situation late in the game," said Kiermaier, a rookie. "I saw it in the air and got a good read on it. I'm willing to put my body on the line to help this team out and that's what I did right there. Nothing serious happened [when he hit the artificial turf]; I don't even think I'll be sore tomorrow."
And in the ninth, with one down, two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera singled, but McGee retired the dangerous Victor Martinez -- he hit a grand slam on Wednesday night -- and J.D. Martinez to end the swift 2-hour, 34-minute matinee.
Cobb was sitting in the dugout when Price went out to pitch the bottom of the eighth, an inning in which he blew out Nos. 21, 22 and 23 in order.
"You watch him go out there for the eighth and you just kind of laugh a little bit at the situation that's actually taking place.
"That's who David is. He's one of the best and the performance you saw was awesome."
Pausing, Cobb added: "But he'll always be remembered in this clubhouse for being the best teammate who has ever worn a Rays uniform for us."
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.