TORONTO – Blue Jays fans were ecstatic about saying hello to David Price on Monday. The Twins are just as delighted to say goodbye.
The former Cy Young Award winner received his first standing ovation from a rowdy Rogers Centre sellout crowd for doing nothing more than walking to the bullpen to warm up, and he earned a far larger one when he walked off the mound after dominating the Twins for eight innings. Price struck out 11 in his Blue Jays debut, retired the final 15 batters he faced, and pulled Toronto into a virtual tie with the Twins for the final AL playoff spot by handing them a 5-1 matinee defeat.
“David Price, man. He’s a bulldog,” said Torii Hunter, the lefthander’s teammate in Detroit last year and on this day, his lone mistake. “He’s always bearing down. He’s been in those situations before — it was a like a playoff atmosphere out there. Once he settled in, I mean, he’s David Price.”
Don’t the Twins know it. Monday’s game was the fourth time this season that Price has silenced the Twins offense, and perhaps the best news for them is that, unless it’s in an end-of-season tiebreaker or a playoff game, they won’t have to watch his 97-miles-per-hour fastballs whiz by them again this year.
Price, acquired from the Tigers two days before Friday’s nonwaiver trade deadline, gave up a second-inning solo home run to Hunter but almost nothing else, surrendering only three hits in his Toronto debut. He began the season by shutting out the Twins for 8 ⅔ innings on Opening Day on April 6 in Detroit, and he has been just as good ever since — in four starts against the Twins this season, Price owns a 1.16 ERA, having given up 19 hits in 31 innings while striking out 31.
“He’s been tough on the Twins this year,” said Twins manager Paul Molitor, in an understatement. “He had a little extra gear when he needed it, as far as velocity. He knows how to expand the zone when he’s got young, aggressive hitters. All things that we’ve seen before.”
What they have rarely seen, though, is an atmosphere like Monday’s, when the combination of a Canadian holiday, a bobblehead giveaway and an extra jolt of enthusiasm over the trade-bolstered Blue Jays roster created an electric atmosphere.
“That was the best atmosphere I’ve ever been in,” Price said, and that includes his appearances as a rookie for Tampa Bay in the 2008 World Series. “I’ve pitched in quite a few big games, but that atmosphere today — I’ve never experienced anything like that. That was cool.”
One man’s cool, though, is another man’s frustration, from what the Twins can tell. And while the Twins, who saw Baltimore also pull even with them later with a victory later Monday, were somehow optimistic about facing their nemesis, especially with road-savvy Ervin Santana on the mound, it didn’t last long. Hunter temporarily hushed the crowd a little with his second-inning blast — “He looked at me with a smile, and went like this,” Hunter said, demonstrating the taste-of-lemon scrunched-up face he saw — but that was all the offense the Twins ever managed.
“A winnable game, given all the exterior things that were going on, with the excitement about him making his debut,” Molitor said. “Putting all those things aside, Ervin pitched well enough, and we created enough opportunity to try to get some things done.”
Well, a couple of opportunities, anyway. Kurt Suzuki smacked a leadoff double in the third inning, but never advanced any farther, partly due to a failed sacrifice attempt by Eduardo Escobar. And Price loaded the bases with walks after Trevor Plouffe’s leadoff double in the fourth — then squirmed out of it. Eddie Rosario hit a pop-up to shallow center that Troy Tulowitzki, another new Blue Jay, ran down, Aaron Hicks looked at strike three and Suzuki battled for eight pitches before whiffing on a 97-mph fastball.
And the Twins’ day was effectively over. Price and LaTroy Hawkins never allowed another baserunner.
“It hurts. We were upset,” Hunter said. “He kind of abused us.”
Hopefully, for the final time this summer.