By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – When Detroit Tigers starting pitcher David Price saw manager Brad Ausmus striding toward the mound in the eighth inning Saturday, Price figured his night was done.
The newest addition to Detroit’s rotation, Price had pitched a gem against the Seattle Mariners, allowing only one run in more than seven innings, but Price had never had a manager come out to the mound and then leave him in the game.
Ausmus, however, approached the mound with an open mind.
“I was a little concerned because of the long bottom of the seventh,” Ausmus said. “I was a little concerned that layoff took a little bit of steam out of him. He came out, he wasn’t throwing quite as hard. He did seem to get loose, and his velocity came back up, but his pitch count was climbing up, and I’ve only seen David, what is it, three starts now, so I wanted to get a feel for how he was doing. But he made it extremely clear that he was good.”
The conversation did not take long.
“I just said, ‘Listen, I need you to be honest with me. How are you feeling?’” Ausmus said. “He said, ‘I’m good.’ I said, ‘Go get ‘em.’ That’s all it was. I could tell by the look in his eyes that it wasn’t one of those, ‘I think I’m good.’ This was, ‘I’m good.’”
Price’s confident expression was no accident.
“I just made sure I looked him right in the eyes,” Price said. “Eye contact is huge, and I made sure I did that with him.
“I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve ever had the manager come out and I‘ve been able to stay in the game, so that’s cool,” Price added. “I love that. I don’t ever want to get taken out in the middle of an inning or before the ninth inning’s over, so I really appreciated him having the confidence in me to go out there and get those last two outs. That was big.”
Ultimately, Price got out of a bases-loaded jam and received a roaring, standing ovation. He had not allowed a hit in the first three innings, and he had faced just one more than the minimum number of batters through six innings. Price followed up the mound meeting with Ausmus with a dramatic swinging strikeout of Austin Jackson, the former Tiger whom Detroit traded away to get Price.
That strikeout and a ground out to end the game prompted an exuberant reaction from the crowd of 43,833, the largest at Comerica since Opening Day.
Felix Hernandez started Saturday for the Mariners, setting up a must-see matchup with Price, given that both are perennial All-Stars and Cy Young Award winners. Hernandez has been mercilessly dominant this season; he entered Saturday’s game with a 1.95 ERA. Price, meanwhile, had been the hottest commodity on the trade market this season and entered the game with a 3.12 ERA.
It became clear early, however, that Hernandez was not his usual self. He threw 49 pitches in the first two innings and exited after five, making Saturday’s appearance his shortest one since May 2. He had allowed only two runs but had given up seven hits, the most since June 2.
“He definitely still gave his team a chance to win with not his best stuff,” Price said. “I think that’s what the elite pitchers do. Anybody can win whenever they have that good stuff, but it’s when you don’t have that good stuff you can still keep your team in the game. He pitched out of jams, had runners on base, and he still made pitches. That’s why he is who he is.”
Ausmus was also impressed by Hernandez, but he was appreciative of how Detroit’s lineup handled the pitcher known as “King Felix.”
“It’s just a matter of battling and hoping he leaves a pitch out over the plate that you can hit,” Ausmus said. “He doesn’t do that often. He’s got tremendous movement on his pitches, he’s got a very good, kind of a power change-up that’s outstanding and very difficult on lefties and righties. But we did a good job.
“We were able to make contact. We were able to get some hits,” Ausmus said. “We thought the hitters did an excellent job against one of the best in the game.”
Detroit’s offense did get to Hernandez, but Tigers catcher Alex Avila gave plenty of credit to Price.
“The thing about Felix is when you get to him, it’s two runs,” Avila said with a smile, “so you’ve got to make sure you have a guy like David Price going against him.”