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"He could be the best pitcher in baseball," Hickey adds. "And he wants to be."
Says Boston hitting coach Dave Magadan, "He's a different pitcher. You used to be able to zone in on one side of the plate against him. Now he commands the ball on both sides and at different speeds."
"It's no fun facing him," said Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez. "You don't see many guys who throw 98 with a good curveball and changeup. Believe me, it's no fun."
Price was seated at a Boston restaurant enjoying a September lunch when across the room he noticed teammates Matt Garza, Desmond Jennings and Reid Brignac. They nodded and waved at one another. "Now over there," said Price, "you have a pitcher, an outfielder who just got called up and an infielder. You don't see that all the time with teams. Tomorrow, it could be a different group. Our chemistry is second to none. Sometimes, it feels like being back in college."
The Rays do have a youthful, collegial spirit. In the clubhouse one day, righthander James Shields, the oldest Tampa Bay starting pitcher at 28, was setting up an iPad game called We Farm for his seven-year-old daughter. It didn't take long for the other starting pitchers to start their own We Farm competition. Price spends far more time tapping away on his iPad to tend to his virtual crops and livestock than he does on scouting reports, for which he has almost no use.
"Most times I don't even get a lineup card on my chair," Price said. "I'll see the lineup when I'm warming up in the pen and they'll be calling it out. I keep it as simple as possible."
As Price finished lunch, Brignac, who had left, called him from an Apple store. "Which iPad should I get?" he asked Price.
On this youthful team Price is the Rays' go-to guy, the rare pitcher who became the leader of the staff in his first full big league season. Their postseason chances begin with Price, who this week could become the fourth-youngest starter to win a Division Series opener, behind only Mark Mulder of the 2001 Athletics and Jon Lester of the 2008 Red Sox.
Price welcomes the responsibility of leadership. Two years ago he established Project One Four (he wears number 14), a foundation that supports youth educational programs by donating funds, computers, backpacks and clothing. He also established the Nathan Stephens Endowment Scholarship Fund, which annually awards a college scholarship to Blackman's "most outstanding person."
"My parents raised me to be a mirror images of themselves," Price says, "and they did it well. We are very blessed, and we like seeing other people smiling."