The Tampa Bay Rays had a big lead when David Price began the eighth inning with consecutive balls to Oakland's No. 8 hitter, Kila Ka'aihue.
Price would strike out Ka'aihue, but it was what the left-hander did after his second pitch missed the strike zone that caught the attention of Rays manager Joe Maddon. Price walked behind the mound, took a depth breath and resumed the dominating performance that would earn him his fifth win of the season.
"Deep breath. Strike, strike, strike. That's the kind of stuff I love to see out of him," Maddon said.
Price went eight innings Friday night in the Rays' 7-2 victory against the A's in front of 18,799 fans at Tropicana Field. He struck out a season-high 12 and allowed only three hits and a walk and joined teammate James Shields as the only five-game winners in the American League.
It was a performance reminiscent of 2010, when Price won 19 games and finished second in the American League Cy Young Award voting.
"The confidence is re-emerging," Maddon said. "And when you combine confidence with that kind of skill level, heads up."
The Rays moved a season-high 11 games above .500 with their sixth straight win, the 10th straight at the Trop. They have won 12 of 13 and 13 of 15. They are 13-1 at home this season.
Earlier in the day, Maddon and several of the players were guests of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce luncheon, and, as he did last year, Maddon let the chamber members pick out Friday's lineup.
With some guidance from Maddon — he mentioned Carlos Peña was a better on-base percentage option over Matt Joyce — the chamber wanted B.J. Upton batting second for the first time this season, took Maddon's recommendation and had Peña batting third and Joyce fourth, had Luke Scott batting fifth and dropped Ben Zobrist to sixth for the first time this season.
The rest was pretty much what you'd expect when Maddon makes out the lineup on his own.
"The Chamber of Commerce got it right," Maddon said. "They're 2-0. I can't wait until next year."
Upton returned to the spot in the order where he had so much success last September and had two RBI doubles and scored twice.
"Putting B.J. in the 2 hole was very, very bright on their behalf," Maddon said.
Scott singled home Upton and Joyce, who had walked, in the third inning, when the Rays scored three times to take the lead.
Jose Molina, batting eighth, hit his first home run as a Ray, a two-run shot in the fourth inning.
Looking very much like his 2010 self, Price retired the A's in order five times. The only inning in which Oakland had more than one base runner was the second, when former Ray Jonny Gomes lined an opposite-field double down the right-field line and Kurt Suzuki pulled a double just fair up the left-field line to score Gomes.
"He's throwing the ball where he wants to throw it, and he has confidence in everything that he's throwing. You mix all that in one bag and you have a bag full of trouble with a guy who throws 97," said Joyce, whose diving catch in the third inning seemed to spark the offense.
Suzuki's hit would be the last allowed by Price until Gomes reached on an infield single in the seventh inning. In between, Price retired 14 of 15 with only a walk to Ka'aihue in the fifth to interrupt the run. He then retired the final five batters he faced.
Price said his walk to the back of the mound to gather himself was something he had done in the past but was missing from his first two starts of the season. The day after lasting three innings in Boston, Maddon reminded Price of his one-time in-game habit.
"When I fell behind 2-0 or I needed to make a big pitch, I was always a firm believer in just stepping off that mound, gathering my thoughts and clearing my head and catching my breath," Price said. "That was something he said that he wasn't seeing me do nearly as much as I did in 2010, 2011. That's part of my program."
Price has won four straight games since then.