baseball is simple. If you want to win, you better bring a staff full of power arms—guys like Rays ace David Price (the game's hardest-throwing lefty starter). And ...
secret weapon Aroldis Chapman (the hardest thrower, period), who's breathing fire in the Reds' bullpen. Get ready. The next four weeks will be a gas.
At the midpoint of his windup, when his body is fully coiled, Tampa Bay pitcher David Price appears to be aiming at an aisle seat in row QQ of the upper deck. With a syrupy sweep of his long left arm, Price takes the baseball from his waist-high glove and brings it back as low to the ground as his back knee. His right shoulder and arm, bent elbow leading the way, are so much higher than his left shoulder that Price barely can peek over them.
This loaded position recalls the long, low reach of classic lefthanders such as Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford and Sandy Koufax. From the batter's box, it also recalls what it must have felt like in medieval times to have been on the wrong end of a freshly loaded catapult.
What happens next is both beautifully and brutally efficient. Price snaps toward the plate with Euclidian perfection, the incremental unwinding of six feet, six inches of hinges and lanky levers—a symphony of angles. "The fact that he's lefthanded," says Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey, "throws 96, 97 and has a little unorthodox delivery works to his advantage. David, on his best days, is as good as anybody who ever pitched."
There is nobody like David Taylor Price—and his ability to accelerate a baseball is only the half of it. Price is the hardest-throwing lefthanded starter in baseball (his average velocity is 94.6 and he has hit 100 mph) and, thanks to his deus ex machina relief appearance in Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series, the youngest pitcher ever to save a sudden-death postseason game.
This year, in his first full season in the big leagues, Price (19--6, 2.72) set a Rays record for wins and will be the youngest of only six pitchers in the wild-card era to have a sub-three ERA while logging 200 innings in the brutal AL East. (The others were Roy Halladay, Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.) "He's real good now," Rays manager Joe Maddon says, "but you're not going to believe how good he's going to be in a year or two."
Fiercely competitive, Price can't even chew gum without measuring himself against others. "Oh, no doubt," he says. "I've got the best bubble on the team." He's also motivated by the desire to be identified by a slightly grander title: "I want to be the best pitcher in baseball."
More remarkable still is that Price has arrived here, as an ace, a contender for the Cy Young Award ("Something I've wanted since I was a little kid," he said) and an unselfish role model, on the other side of a wickedly turbulent three-year learning curve. Since turning pro in 2007 as the first overall pick of the draft, Price not only added three pitches, lost 15 pounds and changed his windup, but he also became much more familiar with death than any young man should ever be.
"That's probably why I try to have so much fun," Price says. "I don't know when it's going to be my last time to play baseball. There's no telling what's going to happen to me, going to the field or coming home from the field tonight. You just don't know. I keep that in perspective and make sure that I enjoy every last minute that I have playing baseball."