His smile may be crooked, but there’s nothing dishonest about the way David Price gets batters out. The Tampa Bay southpaw gives hitters a simple choice—swing at his 97 mph tailing heater, take a hack at his 90 mph slider, or flail at his knee-buckling curve ball. How’s that working for David? Well, he has the Rays contending for a return trip to the World Series, and he was the starting pitcher in the All-Star Game in his first full major league season. One of the most competitive players in the game, David has the stuff and makeup to be a perennial 20-game winner. This is his story…

GROWING UP

David Taylor Price was born on August 26, 1985, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) He was the youngest of three sons born to Debbie and Bonnie Price. His brothers, Damon and Jackie, were teenagers when he entered the world.

David loved baseball from early childhood. He played and watched games with great enthusiasm. His parents remember him running around the backyard with a bat, ball and glove when he was two. Soon he was having catches with his father. 

As soon as he was old enough for organized leagues, David established himself a standout. He began pitching around his eighth birthday. By age 11, he was being courted by some of the area's best travel teams. Whatever team he pitched for, he dominated.

No one who played on early teams with David is the least bit surprised at his meteoric rise to stardom. However, they do not remember the confident, outgoing pitcher they see today. He was shy and somewhat withdrawn as a kid.

Tall and lean, David also proved to be an excellent basketball player. He learned the basics of the game from Judy Goodwin, a teacher at Black Fox School. Baseball, however, was his first love.

David was a big fan of the Atlanta Braves. He could catch all their games on TBS, and the team made it to the postseason every year. His first hero was sweet-swinging outfielder David Justice.

David enrolled at brand new Blackman High School in 2000 and was a member of its first four-year graduating class. He made Doug Greene’s varsity baseball squad as a freshman in 2001. A year later, he was named the county’s Male Athlete of the Year. He would win this award twice more before he was done. 

By 2004, David stood 6–6 and literally loomed over enemy hitters. The teenage hitters he faced had no chance against him. During his career for the Blaze, David struck out 151 and a posted a 0.43 ERA. An excellent student as well, he began receiving national noteriety as a senior. That year he was invited to play in the High School All-Star Game in New Mexico.

When the MLB draft was held that spring, David was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 19th round. He also drew interest from several top college baseball programs. In the end, he turned down a bonus from the Dodgers and decided to attend Vanderbilt University on an academic scholarship.

In January of 2005, before his freshman season started, David got shelled in an intrasquad game. He was so upset that he walked into coach Tim Corbin’s office and quit. The competition was too hard and the schoolwork was overwhelming. He told Corbin he'd be better off working at a McDonald’s back home in Murfreesboro. It took the coach an hour to talk David out of it. 

ON THE RISE

The Commodores had a decent year in ’05, going 34–21. They got devoured in SEC play, however, finishing below .500 at 13–17. David appeared in 19 games. In 69 and 1/3 innings, he went 2–4 with a 2.86 ERA and was picked as a Freshman All-American. His golden arm proved more powerful than the golden arches.

In 2006, people were talking David up for the Golden Spikes Award—the MVP of college baseball. A strikeout machine, the 20-year-old fanned a school-record 155 batters in 110 and 1/3 innings. He posted a 9–5 record with a 4.16 ERA, regularly overpowering hitters with his fastball. Though the Golden Spikes Award ultimately wwent to Tim Lincecum, David was voted Second Team All-SEC and Third Team All-American. Behind the big lefty ’s pitching and the hitting of freshman sensation Pedro Alvarez, Vanderbilt improved to 38-27, including a 16–14 mark in conference play.

David continued his dominance in his third and final season with the Commodores. He always had the tools to be a superstar, but now he also had the attitude. He described himself as a marshmallow when he arrived at Vanderbilt; the coaching staff turned him into a rock.

David won 11 of 12 decisions in 2007, fashioned a 2.63 ERA and struck out 194 batters, obliterating his own school mark. The Commodores won 54 games and finished the year ranked #6 in the country. They won the SEC Tournament despite dropping the first game of the draw.



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David Justice, 1992 Stadium

     
 

David’s only loss of ’07 came in relief, pitching on two days rest against Michigan in the NCAA Regional championship game. He gave up a 10-th inning home run that ended Vanderbilt’s dream of a national title. Throughout the year, David flirted with 100 mph on the radar gun. Scouts were calling him a left-handed John Smoltz.

As a junior, David won the Dick Howser Award, college baseball’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, as well as various conference, regional and national honors. By the time he was finished collecting all the postseason hardware, David was property of the Rays, who tabbed him with the first overall pick in the 2007 draft. After a drawn-out negotiation, he signed a six-year contract that included a $5.6 million bonus.

David arrived at spring training in 2008 expecting to start his pro career in the minors. The Rays farmed him out to Class-A Vero Beach. There, he pitched in six games and won all four of his decisions, striking out better than a batter an inning. In his second start, David enjoyed a thrilling moment when he faced Pedro Martinez, who was on a rehab assignment for the New York Mets.

David quickly rose through the Tampa Bay farm system. After a stop at Double-A Montgomery, he was promoted to the Rays’ Class-AAA affiliate in Durham. It was on the mound for the Bulls that he suffered his first professional loss. Before that game, he was a perfect 11–0.  

The Rays were duly impressed, and after the minor league season concluded, they called David up to the big club. His first game was against the Yankees. He hurled an impressive 5-plus innings of relief in the Bronx. During this appearance, he gave up his first major league home run, to Derek Jeter.

David logged his first starting assignment eight days later against the Baltimore Orioles. He surrendered a single earned run in 5 and 1/3 innings. Even with the Rays fighting for the American East crown, David saw plenty of action on the hill. In five games, he threw 14 innings and recorded a 1.93 ERA. 

Making their first postseason appearance, the Rays faced the Chicago White Sox in the Division Series. They handled the South Siders with surprising ease in four games. David watched the action from the bullpen and did not get into a game.

Next up were the Red Sox in the ALCS. Boston took Game 1 by a score of 2–0. David pitched a scoreless ninth inning to keep Tampa within striking distance. The following day, manager Joe Maddon called his number again, this time in the 11th inning of an 8–8 slugfest. He retired the Red Sox in the top of the inning, and the Rays scored in the bottom half. David had his first win as a major leaguer.

When the series moved to Fenway Park, Tampa Bay’s hitters went wild, trouncing the Red Sox by scores of 9–1 and 13–4. The Rays tried to wrap up the pennant in Game 5. Maddon watched a 7–0 lead disappear with just nine outs to go, as his bullpen imploded. Boston won 8–7 and then took Game 6 by a score of 4–2. The season was slipping away.  


David Price, 2007 Donruss Elite
     
 

In Game 7, the Rays built a fragile 3–1 lead. In the eighth inning, Madden had to decide who would finish the game. He called David to the mound with two out and the bases loaded. The rookie took the ball and calmly recorded the final four outs. He struck out J.D. Drew to get out of the eighth-inning jam. Then, after walking Jason Bay on a full count to start the ninth, he fanned Mark Kotsay and Jason Varitek before getting pinch-hitter Jed Lowrie to ground out to second base.

Tampa Bay fans couldn’t believe it—the Rays were in the World Series, and their rookie wonder had saved the day. It also happened to be David’s first save. When he was asked how he could be so calm under those circumstances, he said he just thought of playing catch with his dad in the backyard in Tennessee.

Tampa Bay’s remarkable run ended in five games against the Phillies in the World Series. David closed out the Rays’ only win, a 4–2 victory in Game 2. He returned to the mound in Game 5 with his team trailing 4–3. He held Philadelphia in check, but the Rays could not make up the difference and lost.  

Despite his fine relief work, David was destined to be a starter for Tampa Bay. In 2009, the Rays optioned him to Durham to start the year. They put David on a strict pitch count, waiting for a spot to open up in the big league rotation. He made eight starts for the Bulls, his last being a no-hit effort in five innings against Rochester.

David rejoined the Rays in late May and settled nicely into the starting rotation. In all, he made 23 starts, and with each appearance, he gained confidence and experience. He got his first win as a starter against the Minnesota Twins, striking out 11 batters in 5 and 2/3 innings.

The Rays continued to watch his pitch count and often pulled him early in games. In his first few outings, David tried to be too fine. In turn, he found himself pitching out of jams of his own making. Finally, he relaxed and just let his talent flow. It was something to see. 

In the second half, David won seven times—tops on the Tampa Bay staff. Alas, the Rays could not reproduce their 2008 season and fell out of playoff contention in early September. Still, it was a pivotal year for Tampa Bay, thanks in part to David’s consistent development into a star.

His last start came against the division-leading Yankees and CC Sabathia. With the hefty lefty going for his 20th win, David was sensational. It was his third great outing against New York. Indeed, the Bronx Bombers batted a meager .113 against him in 2009. For David it was win number 10 against seven defeats. His ERA was 4.42 and he struck out 102 batters in 128 and 1/3 innings. 


Joe Maddon, Black Book Partners archives
     
 

David took another big step forward in 2010, which was technically his first full season as a major leaguer. Along with his blinding fastball and sharp-breaking slider, he added a reliable changeup that enabled him to become the first in the league to reach double-digits in wins. His record stood at 12–4 with 100 strikeouts at the All-Star Break. New York manager Joe Girardi named him the starting pitcher for the AL in the Mid-Summer Clasic.

David threw the game’s first pitch to Hanley Ramirez, who grounded out to first base on a 3–1 count. Martin Prado also grounded to the right side. Next, Albert Pujols hit a liner to right that Ichiro Suzuki snagged with a nice running catch. In the second inning, David struck out Ryan Howard and gave up a single to David Wright. He was erased two pitches later on a 6–4–3 double play. David was through for the night after facing the minimum six batters.

David lost only two games after the All-Star Break. He finished the year 19–6 and went undefeated in seven September starts as the Rays grabbed the AL Wild Card. In two of his stretch-run no decisions, he held the other team scoreless and the Rays scored late to win.

David’s final numbers included 188 strikeouts in 208 and 2/3 innings and a 2.72 ERA—the lowest among AL lefties. In the Cy Young Award voting, most people figured it would come down to David and Sabathia. But Felix Hernandez trumped them both despite a 13–12 record. Those rooting for David would point out that he was the only AL pitcher to finish among the Top 5 in wins, winning percentage, ERA, opponent's average and quality starts.

The Rays drew the Texas Rangers in their Division Series. David started twice. In Game 1, he gave up homers to Nelson Cruz and Bengie Molina and was outpitched by Cliff Lee in a 5–1 loss. With the Rays down three games to one, David took the mound again and lost for a second time to Lee, who was on a magical postseason run.

Despite his playoff disappointment, David opened a lot of eyes around the league in 2010. Winning 19 games in your first full season is a pretty big statement in modern-day baseball. It takes talent, maturity, durability and efficiency—qualities that are rare in a pitcher who’s only 25.

David got off to a fast start in 2011 despite a slow one by the Rays. Whether he reaches 20 wins or not, baseball fans on Florida’s West Coast won’t fret too much. Whatever his final tally, they know the Price is right.

DAVID THE PITCHER


David Price, 2009 Heritage
     
 

David likes to make short work of opponents, and he does so on a regular basis. When he gets into a rhythm, it is hard to shake him out of. Batters will step in and out of the box to rattle him, but this rarely has much of an effect.

David throws his fastball in the mid to upper 90s with great tailing movement. He also has a wicked slider that breaks the other way. He can use either pitch to set up the other. His changeup gets better with each start, although he sometimes tips it, with some gruesome results. In 2010, David developed a primetime curve ball. He rarely had this pitch and his slider working at the same time, but with just one of the two he was extremely effective. If he can get both breaking pitches to behave, batters would be lucky to hit .200 against him.

What defines David is his competitive spirit and his unwillingness to give in. He says he takes the mound every start with one thing in mind: pitching a perfect game. That attitude filters through the rest of the club. When David is on the hill, the Rays feel unbeatable. He relishes the mantle of staff ace and pitches like one most times out.


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