Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 4/25/12
ST. PETERSBURG The Los Angeles Angels couldn't hit David Price Tuesday evening, but that didn't mean the Tampa Bay Rays lefthander went unscathed. First, there was a shaving-cream pie in his face courtesy of Rays ace James Shields in the middle of a post-game interview on the field. And then Price's teammates got in some good shots when he entered the clubhouse, minutes after having pitched perhaps the best game of his career to give his team its fifth win in six games. Amid whoops and cheers, the fourth-year starter who has struggled with inconsistency in the past two seasons had to run through a boisterous gauntlet beneath raised arms, while players playfully pummeled him in celebration of his five-hit, 5-0 complete-game shutout. Of course, getting a few lumps never felt so good to Price especially after an effort in which he mixed up his repertoire of pitches masterfully and finally resembled the dominant 19-game winner who finished second in the AL Cy Young Award balloting in 2010. "I took a beating when I got in here," he said, smiling. "But I'll take that any day." It was a night that Price was right and Carlos Pena was grand collecting his 1,000th career hit and a fittingly a mammoth blast into the right-field seats. It was a night the team that craved more power last season ripped four solo homers in all one game after setting a team record with four sacrifice flies against the Twins. The other three were courtesy of leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings in his first at bat, B.J. Upton in his first round-tripper of the season since returning last Friday from the disabled list, and Luke Scott, signed in the off-season along with Pena to increase the muscle quotient. And it was a night the Rays set the tone with their tried-and-true formula of take-charge pitching and sensational defense such as the sprinting, sliding catch in right by Matt Joyce in the third to take away a hit by Chris Iannetta, the pinpoint charge-and-throw off a bunt by third baseman Evan Longoria to rob Erick Aybar of a single, and the deft glove work throughout by shortstop Sean Rodriguez. Even Price got in on the action at one point, thrusting out his arm and catching a smash back up the middle by Vernon Wells in the second. "I just kind of stuck my hand out there and in went in my glove," he said. But it was what Price did with his other hand and arm that counted most. He threw 119 pitches, 80 for strikes, constantly keeping the slumping Angels (6-11) and their still-homerless star, Albert Pujols, off balance all night. "He's a competitor," said Pujols, who went 0-for-4 and saw his batting average drop to .232. "He threw a lot of off-speed. I think everybody in the league knows that he throws a lot of fastballs, but he was mixing up his pitches pretty well and keeping the ball down. He didn't make any mistakes; he was pretty comfortable pitching from the wind-up all the time." Angels manager Mike Sciocsia was equally impressed. "Tonight, David Price pitched a heck of a game for them," he said. "I don't know if we've seen a pitcher have a better game against us. We had a couple of opportunities but he shut the door. We had a couple of early hitters on and couldn't get anything going. Those guys just kept hitting their solo home runs and he knew what to do with the lead. It wasn't just fastballs, he had four pitches he was throwing on any count." Price's manager, Joe Maddon, echoed the sentiment of the Angels' skipper he once worked for as bench coach. "Great command on all of his pitches he pretty much broke out the kitchen sink," Maddon said. "He threw his fastball where he wanted to; his back- door cutter was there; the curveball was (there) for a strike he had everything going on tonight. He was a strike-thrower with all of his pitches, which makes it difficult for the other side because it's hard to really nail him down. I thought that really was one of his best performances in regards to using the entire repertoire." Price didn't disagree. "I felt good in the bullpen and really took it out there to the mound," he said. "Jose (Molina) was calling a bunch of different stuff and I was right there on the same page with him. We were in rhythm today and it was good. ... My stuff feels good right now and it's just a matter of putting everything together like I did tonight and moving forward." Price, as always, found motivation in looking backward as well. Tuesday marked the four-year anniversary of the death of his close friend and former high school teammate Tyler Morrissey, killed in a car crash. He has remained close with the Morrissey family and made mention of his late pal prior to this start. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Price's only other complete-game shutout came on April 25, 2010, only one day removed from the second anniversary of Morrissey's death. Price acknowledged he was thinking about him. "Oh yeah," he said. "I talked to his family earlier today. They had everybody over at their house tonight to watch the game like they usually do. I talked to them after the game. They were very excited." No one was more excited, however, that Price. Last season, he finished a drab 12-13 with a 3.49 ERA, a season after vaulting to the top of the Rays' rotation and into baseball's elite with a record of 19-6 and ERA of 2.72. But starting in the 2010 post-season and through the opening weeks of 2012, he hasn't seemed like the same pitcher at times. Suddenly, however, that appears to be changing. His record after four outings stands at 3-1 with an ERA of 2.63. And Tuesday he recaptured that aura of invincibility that Rays' fans longed to see and opponent's didn't. "I needed that," Price said. "I needed to get that feeling back. It gets old coming out after the fifth and sixth inning." He needed it to show the doubters who have wondered what became of the dazzling lefty of 2010. Price was aware of the growing sentiment of concern over his troubles. "Yeah, that's fine that's everybody in every sport," he said. "Everyone has critics. But I'm my own biggest critic, so I'm not going to worry about what everyone else is going to say." Price entered the ninth having yielded just three hits, but singles by Aybar and Torii Hunter with two out put his complete game and shutout in jeopardy. But he retired slugger Mark Trumbo on a fly out to left fielder Jennings to put it away, prompting teammates to race from the dugout to mob him at the mound. For the record, Maddon told the media he would have pulled Price had he not gotten past Trumbo, but Price wouldn't be denied in notching his second career shutout and third complete game. "He was the best I've ever seen him," said Pena. "I've seen him pitch many times throughout my years here in Tampa Bay. And today was the best I have ever seen him pitch. Obviously, we all know how incredibly talented he is and how above-average his stuff is. But I thought today he was pitching. He made them swing the bats early. He made them put the ball in play, but they weren't making good contact." Pena, on the other hand, made contact in the fourth, launching his towering shot off Ervin Santana (responsible for all four Rays homers) and to reach a landmark in his long, winding career through the majors starting in 2001 with Texas, leading through Detroit, Boston and Tampa Bay (from 2007-2010), the Cubs and back with the Rays again this season. "It's the tale of a dream come true," he said. "At the end of the day, I dreamed about getting one hit in the big leagues. So for me to be able to get 1,000, I can't put into words how special it is for me. I think the one thing that sticks out is I'm grateful, truly grateful to sit here and say, Wow, I've gotten 1,000 hits in the big leagues.' "To me, that's a lot. Maybe that mark is not celebrated in baseball because we celebrate 2,000 and 3,000. But I celebrated the fact that I got one. So 1,000 is just icing on the cake." And the fact it was a homer? "Yeah," he said. "That makes it even special." For the sparse Tropicana Field crowd of 14,933, it was one of many special moments topped by a pitching performance that was well worth the price of admission.
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