ST. PETERSBURG — Less than two hours before he would pitch in his old home for the first time since the trade, David Price texted a member of the Rays PR staff and asked if, for old-time sake, they could play the song that always played as Price took the field for the top of the first inning: “Feels Good to be Here,” by Shawty Lo.
Of course they did.
In-game host Rusty Kath stopped his middle-of-the-first-inning monologue to applaud as Price headed to the mound. The crowd inside Tropicana Field stood and cheered.
“That was cool,” Price said. “When they kept cheering, I kind of had to step off. That was a good feeling.”
Then Price turned in maybe the best outings of his career -- eight innings of one-hit ball -- and lost.
The Rays won 1-0 when Brandon Guyer hit a backdoor cutter to right-center field for a first inning triple with Ben Zobrist on first base. Zobrist had reached on a throwing error. Guyer's was the only hit Price would allow.
“They are what I thought they were,” Price said of his old teammates. “I knew which pitches I could throw and which pitches I couldn't throw. Guyer, I shouldn't throw him a back-door cutter and I did. It was a good pitch, and he hit it well.”
Alex Cobb was nearly as good as Price. He allowed two hits and walked two in his seven innings, pitched out of a pair of jams and earned the victory against his old teammate and close friend.
“I thought David was impressive, and I thought Cobb was equally impressive while he was out there,” said Evan Longoria, who was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Price. “It was fun to watch, and not nearly as fun to be on the other side facing David.”
Price, who was traded to the Tigers on July 31, retired the final 23 batters he faced. Cobb retired 11 straight Tigers at one point.
“I can't remember (Price pitching) better game, honestly, which is funny. He was perfect,” Cobb said. “He had one inning you take out and it was a perfect game. To walk away with a loss from that is tough to swallow.”
The day belonged to Price, the four-time All-Star who saved Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series just a month into his major league career and who became the franchise's only 20-game winner in 2012, the year he also became the only Rays pitcher to win a Cy Young Award.
“David deserved everything he got from the crowd and leading up to the game with all the hype,” Cobb said. “But once it became game time the fact is we've been streaking in the wrong direction and definitely needed a win to get back to .500 and compete for a Wild Card spot in September.”
The Rays snapped a four-game losing streak with the win and ended a disappointing home stand on a positive note.
“It was a game we needed to win, and we did,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Cobb extended his winning streak to a career-high seven and extended his run of allowing two or fewer runs in a game to a franchise record eight. He ran into trouble in the third inning when the first two batters he faced reached base, but he got a double play grounder to Yunel Escobar to stop that rally. The Tigers had runners on the corners with one out in the seventh after a leadoff double by Torii Hunter, a grounder to second by Miguel Cabrera and a in intentional walk to Victor Martinez. But Cobb pitched out of that jam with a strikeout and a fly ball to center field.
“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 his highest level – Def Con 1.”
Maddon said Cobb was probably the best candidate among the Rays starters to handle the pressure and ignore the hype surrounding Price's return to the Trop.
“He's the one guy who would,” Maddon said. “The younger guys I'm not quite sure, but Cobber was definitely ready for the moment, and he did wonderfully.”
After he left the game in the seventh inning, Cobb was able to sit back and watch Price pitch his final two innings.
“It's just artwork to watch him pitch when he is on,” Cobb said. “It is the absolute definition of pitching.”
Price allowed only two base runners, and one reached on an error. He did not allow an earned run. He did not allow a base runner after Guyer's triple. And he lost.
Cobb was asked if he felt bad that his old teammate didn't earn a win after such a dominating performance.
“No,” Cobb said. “This was my perfect scenario of what could have happened.”
Everyone pitched well and the Rays won.