David Price looked into the TV camera mounted near the visiting dugout at Tropicana Field early Wednesday evening. His feet, he said, were numb. His legs, he said, felt like noodles. He hoped he wasn’t sweating through the tan-on-tan plaid three-piece Raphael suit he wore for the first time.
Through his ear piece the Tampa Bay Rays' left-hander could hear Jack O’Connell, the secretary/treasurer of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, announce the winner of the 2012 American League Cy Young Award live on the MLB Network.
And Price was thinking …?
"I don’t know," he said. "I was thinking everything."
Price wanted to win the award, wanted to have his name placed among some of the best pitchers in the history of the game.
"I did," he said. "I wanted it very bad."
Price heard O’Connell call his name. He turned his head to his left and smiled that big David Price smile familiar to all Rays.
In the closest voting in the American League since Detroit’s Denny McLain and Baltimore’s Mike Cuellar tied for the award in 1969, Price edged 2011 AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander of Detroit by four votes.
"I’m very humbled," Price said. "It’s a blessing."
Price was named first on 14 of the 28 ballots (two BBWAA voters in each American League city). Verlander was first on 13. The final first-place vote went to Rays closer Fernando Rodney, who finished fifth.
The result was so close that every vote counted. Detroit-based Jon Paul Morosi, a national baseball writer for Fox Sports.com, voted Price first and Verlander second.
"I’m so happy for him," Rays pitcher James Shields said. "I had a feeling it was going to come, but it’s nice to hear the verdict finally came out and he won. I think it’s well-deserved, and I’m very proud of him."
Price was 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA. He was tied with third-place finisher Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels for the most wins in the AL. Price’s ERA was the lowest.
Verlander was 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA. He led the league in strikeouts and innings pitched for the second straight season.
Shields wondered if those who voted for Price took into consideration that Price pitches in the AL East.
"You have to get decent run support to get a bunch of wins," Shields said.
In 16 starts against AL East teams – more than half of his 31 starts – Price was 10-2 with a 2.51 ERA.
"It’s not easy over here," Price said.
Price tied with Weaver for the most wins against teams with winning records – 13. He was 4-0 in five September starts and lost once after June 13.
"I think the biggest thing is he made 31 starts and lost just five times," Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "That’s less than one loss a month."
Rays manager Joe Maddon said Price was the most consistent pitcher he’s ever seen at the major league level.
"He was incredible all year," Maddon said. "He pretty much nailed it. Might have had two tough starts all year."
Between Shields, who was third in 2011, and Price, the Rays have had a top-three finisher in the Cy Young voting in each of the past three seasons.
Price finished second in 2010. He won 19 games that season but lost out to Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, who won 13. Price said that served as some motivation.
Hanging on the wall in one corner of the Rays clubhouse is a slogan made popular by Shields: "If you don’t like it, pitch better."
"That’s the motto we go by," Price said. "We have a lot of big arms in this organization that are just waiting for a chance to come up here and prove that they belong here. If anybody complains, we just look at them and be like, ‘Look, if you don’t like it, just pitch better.’ If you pitch better, these problems right here will be solved, you don’t have to worry about missing a start or getting skipped or having Shields take your day or anything like that. If you throw the ball, you don’t have to worry about anything like that. That’s something that Shields has come up with over the past few years, and I think it’s stuck."
Shields said he and Price often talked this year about their past Cy Young finishes.
"We can both sit back and say my numbers are better than this guy and this guy and this guy and this guy, but what it comes down to is you just got to pitch better and that’s what he did this year," Shields said. "This past year he was a pitcher. He actually was a pitcher. He didn’t just throw. He mixed up his pitches very well.
"He became one of the best lefties in the game. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the best lefty in the game. He wasn’t trying to overpower guys this year, he was really pitching."
Maddon said, after going 12-13 with a 3.49 ERA in 2011, Price put everything together in 2012. His curveball, change-up and splitter finally caught up to his fastball. And Price has developed to the point where a bad start is almost a shock.
"This guy is driven," Maddon said. "He’s always driven to be the best. Second-best is not good enough for him. That’s always been apparent."
Price said he never dreamed as a kid of winning the Cy Young. He didn’t talk about it during the season until he beat the White Sox in Chicago for his 20th victory.
Now his name is up there with Verlander and all the great pitchers to have earned a Cy Young.
"If you can do that," he said, "you’re doing something right."
AL CY YOUNG VOTING