ST. PETERSBURG -- If the trade rumors are true and the Rays are going to quickly cash in David Price for an armful of prospects and Wednesday was Price’s final game at Tropicana Field as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, well then No. 14 left those inside the building with something to remember.
Another overpowering performance that including double-digit strikeouts and eight shutout innings in what became a 5-1 victory for the Rays.
Price’s only blemish was a one-out, ninth-inning homer by Andrew McCutchen -- Price’s last batter of the afternoon.
Price made the slow walk off the field, doffing his cap and waving to those remaining in the camp day matinee crowd of 23,761, who stood and cheered as Price disappeared into the dugout.
“If this is my last start here, thank you, fans,” Price said after the game.
Is it his last start here?
“I don’t know,” Price said. “I know what you guys write, so that’s it.”
Any gut feeling?
“No,” Price said.
Price, who makes $14 million this season and will earn in the neighborhood of $18 million next season during his final year of arbitration before he hits free agency, will be the most sought-after pitcher this summer by contending teams looking for an ace to push them over the top. It’s a real possibility the Rays can deal Price soon to get ahead of the trade market, meaning Price may not be with the team July 7 when they return to the Trop after the 11-game, three-city trip that begins Friday in Baltimore.
While Price said Tuesday he had given thought to Wednesday being his last time in the Rays home jersey, third baseman Evan Longoria said he was unaware of the rumors settling over Price.
Longoria said he didn’t think about the possibility of the Rays trading Price until after Wednesday’s game when he read a text from his dad, Mike.
“(It was) the first time I thought anything of it just because he’s David Price and he’s a Ray and I just assume he’d be here for the rest of the year,” Longoria said. “Hopefully I don’t have to go through that emotional roller coaster with everything else we have going on as a group. But if it is, in the end I will always wish him the best in his career and we will be friends no matter what.”
Manager Joe Maddon said he was not thinking of good-byes during Wednesday’s game, especially when he took the ball from Price in the ninth ninning.
“I don’t go there,” Maddon said. “For me it’s about the Rays and the Rays doing well, and David is a Ray.”
Price was the first one of the dugout during the top of the first inning and was alone on the field for a few moments before the rest of the lineup joined him. No one in the clubhouse thought that was unusual or that it was a tribute to Price from his teammates, though it had that appearance.
Price struck out the first batter he faced and was off on another high-strikeout day, fanning 11. It was the fifth straight game in which Price has struck out at least 10 -- the first time that’s happened in the major leagues since Minnesota’s Johan Santana did it in 2004. He has pitched at least eight innings and struck out at least 10 in four straight games, becoming the first pitcher to do that since Arizona’s Randy Johnson in 2002.
“I’ve never been as good as I am right now. Period,” Price said. “Not in 2012, not in college, not in high school. This is the best pitcher I’ve ever been. I feel in complete control on the mound at all times with all my pitches on both sides of the plate, and that’s tough to do.”
Longoria, who called Price the best teammate he’s ever had, agreed.
“He’s a guy that anybody would want on their team, and I want him to be here for as long as I’m here,” Longoria said. “Is that a realistic statement? Maybe. Maybe not. But in the end anybody that has him on their team is much better off and really and truly not only for what he brings on every fifth day. He’s a great addition.”