Price had done his best, to that point, to avoid thinking about what would happen in the next few minutes. The 27-year-old went through his normal gameday routine Wednesday: early-morning stop at Starbucks, a few hours of video games, a haircut and a shower, then off to the ballpark. But there was nothing routine about this moment.
"I was just hoping I wasn't sweating through my suit," Price said in the Rays' home clubhouse a few minutes afterward. "My feet were numb. My right foot's still numb. I had so many emotions."
But that anxiety quickly turned to relief, as Price was announced as the AL Cy Young Award winner, beating out Tigers ace Justin Verlander in the Baseball Writers' Association of America voting. Price's teammate, closer Fernando Rodney, finished fifth. The four-point margin between Price and Verlander made it one of the closest races in the history of the AL balloting and the slimmest margin of victory since 1969, the only Cy Young tie.
"It's different pressure. I'm used to the pressure and the adrenaline out on the field," Price said. "I don't know how you get used to this. You can't get used to this. I would love to be in this position more times. Very humbled and very blessed to be here right now. This is awesome."
The Tampa Bay left-hander had often displayed his incredible ability on the mound throughout his young career, racking up wins and strikeouts and even finishing as the AL Cy Young runner-up behind Felix Hernandez in 2010. But he put it all together last season, harnessing his talents and transforming into one of the game's most consistently dominant starters.
Price waited until he won his 20th game to vouch for himself as an AL Cy Young Award candidate, but he stated his case with his work on the mound all season. He tied for the AL lead with 20 wins, and his 2.56 ERA was the best in the league. Price racked up 205 strikeouts in 211 innings and held opponents to a .318 slugging percentage, lowest in the AL, while making a Major League-high 23 starts of seven innings or more.
Price did it against some of the best competition in baseball, too, going 10-2 with a 2.51 ERA against AL East opponents. Only eight of the 46 other AL Cy Young Award winners have matched Price's totals in wins, ERA and strikeouts.
But numbers have never been Price's greatest concern, and he meant even more to his team than those spectacular figures suggest. Throughout an injury-plagued, offensively meager season in Tampa Bay, Price proved to be a reliable presence in the Rays' rotation, a far more steady and complete pitcher than he was even two years ago. And with that improvement came due recognition.
"It really does validate the entire concept of the organization, to be built on pitching and defense," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "David's consistency was incredible all year. He really nailed it. ... It's just an incredible display of consistency. From my perspective, where I sit, about as consistent as you can possibly be."
It would be a cliche -- and a false one, at that -- to say winning this award was Price's dream. He didn't think about the Cy Young Award as a Little Leaguer; in fact, he probably didn't even know what it was back then. But it quickly became a goal for the former No. 1 overall pick.
"That's why I play the game. I don't do this for the paycheck. I don't do this to be an average big leaguer. I want to leave my mark on baseball," Price said. "That's why I do it. I said that in an interview back in 2008. I said, 'When people think about baseball and people think about pitching, I want them to think about David Price.' That's the way I've always been."
And this season, Price became the sure thing the Rays needed. He pitched seven innings or more in 23 of his 31 starts and allowed two earned runs or fewer in 23 as well. Price tied Verlander for the league lead in quality starts with 25, and he pitched more games of seven innings and three or fewer earned runs than anyone in the AL.
Price admitted he was fueled by his second-place finish in 2010, and he heeded the words of fellow starter James Shields, who finished third in the 2011 AL Cy Young Award voting. The words are posted on a large yellow sign on the wall next to Shields' locker, and Price repeated them several times Wednesday night: "If you don't like it, pitch better."
"That's the motto we go by," Price said. "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."
You'd have to nitpick to find ways for Price to pitch better in 2013, but he was thinking about it Wednesday night. Things began to click in a new way his last three starts. Price figured out how to mix in his changeup and curveball with his overpowering fastball and slider, and he locked that information away so he can use it next year.
"That made me very excited. I'm definitely pumped for 2013," Price said. "It was a lot of fun. I do feel like I can improve. I can definitely improve."
Maddon said throughout the year that Price had truly come into his own as a pitcher, not just a thrower who relied on his velocity and raw stuff to overwhelm hitters. Yes, Price is every bit the fun-loving jokester he's always been off the field and every bit the talented, focused pitcher he's always been every fifth day. But the Price who took the mound this season was just a bit different -- more mature, more complete and now a Cy Young Award winner.
And if 2012 was only the beginning of this stage in Price's career, suffice it to say, he'll be in the AL Cy Young Award conversation for years to come.
|David Price, Rays||14||13||1||153|
|Justin Verlander, Tigers||13||13||2||149|
|Jered Weaver, Angels||2||14||9||2||70|
|Felix Hernandez, Mariners||5||10||6||41|
|Fernando Rodney, Rays||1||5||4||8||38|
|Chris Sale, White Sox||1||4||6||17|
|Jim Johnson, Orioles||1||3||5|
|Matt Harrison, Rangers||2||2|
|Yu Darvish, Rangers||1||1|