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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Price keeps rising as Rays ramp up for postseason

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BOSTON -- You hear people ask if Aroldis Chapman can be the David Price of this postseason.

But what will David Price be?

In 2008, Price was the hard-throwing young starter sent temporarily to the bullpen, the secret weapon who won ALCS Game 2 in relief and then saved Game 7 to send the Rays past the Red Sox and into the World Series. He was, basically, what the Reds hope Chapman is going to be now.

Price: 'I get asked about [the Cy Young] every now and then. We've got the World Series on our minds right now.' (Getty Images)  
Price: 'I get asked about [the Cy Young] every now and then. We've got the World Series on our minds right now.' (Getty Images)  
But what will Price be this October? The hope, two years later, is that he's now the No. 1 still-young starter who sends the Rays back to the World Series. The hope is that Price is this year's Cole Hamels (2008) or Josh Beckett (2003), the guy who starts and wins Game 1 -- and maybe a clinching game, too.

And maybe he will be.

Price won again Tuesday night, looking like a No. 1 and dominating the Red Sox in a 14-5 rout that ended Tampa Bay's three-game losing streak. He's 17-6 with a 2.87 ERA, second in the American League in wins and fourth in ERA and with a chance of ending his first full big-league season as the AL's Cy Young winner.

The Rays may not lean on him the way the Yankees lean on CC Sabathia, but the Rays fully believe Price can be that kind of starter.

"Mentally, he's a No. 1 with an exclamation point," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Physically, he's got to grow into that."

It's an interesting thought, given that Price is 6-6, weighs 225 pounds and throws a fastball that hit 100 mph in the All-Star Game. It's not 105 mph ("Everything would come off my shoulder if I threw 105," Price says with a smile), but there's no question it's already dominant, No. 1 starter-type stuff.

"I really believe that his stuff can get even better," Maddon said. "You have a driven athlete."

The Rays had lost three straight heading into Tuesday, and while their playoff position wasn't yet close to being in doubt, there were some concerns. The three starters who went before Price had gone a total of 11 innings, while allowing 16 runs.

Maddon said he was sure Price knew that, and just as sure that Price believed he had to be the one to stop the semi-slide. Price insisted that he didn't even know the Rays had lost three straight.

It doesn't really matter whether he knew. The point is he pitched like a guy who intended to set things straight, like a guy who took the responsibility for making sure his team won. Yes, the Rays took this game in large part because their 12 hits included four doubles and five home runs, but it shouldn't go unnoticed that the starting pitcher allowed just one earned run on just two hits in six innings, and that he easily could have gone longer had it been needed.

"David, hopefully, righted the starting pitching," Maddon said. "And we can move on from there."

Price turned 25 a couple weeks back. He's a few months older than Hamels was in 2008, when the Phillies left-hander dominated the postseason, starting and winning the first game in each of the three rounds, and being named the Most Valuable Player in both the National League Championship Series and the World Series.

And just as Hamels was fully willing to take the responsibility then, Price has no problem taking it now. The Rays began the season saying they didn't have a No. 1 starter (and they still say that), but if you ask Price if he likes the designation, he answers quickly.

"Yeah, why not," he said. "It's not something I would shy away from."

He has already pitched 178 2/3 innings, which is 16 1/3 more than his combined total in the minors and the big leagues last year. But with back-to-back starts in which he has pitched 14 innings while allowing just two earned runs, it's not like he shows any signs of hitting a wall.

"I feel great," he said. "I feel like it's the first month of the season. My arm feels great. I feel fantastic."

His next start will be against the Yankees, in a series that will help decide the American League East title but almost certainly can't knock either team out of a playoff spot.

The way things stand, that next start will likely put Price head-to-head against Sabathia, and some will see that as a Cy Young showdown (although Felix Hernandez and even AL ERA Clay Buchholz remain Cy possibilities).

"I get asked about [the Cy Young] every now and then," Price said. "We've got the World Series on our minds right now."

Price helped the Rays get there once, back when we knew a little less about them and a lot less about him. He was the unknown then, the 23-year-old straight out of Vanderbilt who helped change a series and take down the defending champion Red Sox.

He's an All-Star starter now, growing into being a true No. 1 at age 25.

And next month, he'll be every bit as important -- no, more important -- than he was in 2008.

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