ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Early Saturday afternoon, more than 1,000 miles north, David Price sat in a dugout at Comerica Park with an Old English "D" on his new cap in his new environment and spoke about a different life with the Detroit Tigers.
About three hours later, left-hander Drew Smyly walked through Tropicana Field’s bowels toward the home clubhouse with a black Tigers equipment bag clutched in his right hand, the first steps taken in his new existence as part of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Pitching has dominated the discussion about manager Joe Maddon’s team for much of the past week. Talk about rumors involving Price, the jewel of the most recent trade deadline. Talk about moving beyond the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner, with his trade to Detroit as part of a three-way deal that also included the Seattle Mariners. Talk about discovering more about Smyly, who made clear Saturday that he’s excited to join Tampa Bay after his whirlwind 48 hours and a surprise departure from the Motor City.
This night, though, was a time for offense. Lots and lots of it were on display in Tampa Bay’s 10-3 thumping of the Los Angeles Angels, a victory that snapped a brief two-game skid. The mound chatter, at least for a few hours, was gone.
If pitching talk commanded attention for much of the past week, one that will be long recalled here, then Tampa Bay’s offense made a well-timed cameo before the curtain call. Price is the past. Smyly has arrived. And no surprise: the Rays’ bats must be consistent for them to have a chance to reach the postseason again.
"Up and down the lineup, we hit the ball well," Maddon said. "Good at-bats. A lot of hits, and we eventually scored 10 runs."
Up and down, the Rays bludgeoned left-hander C.J. Wilson, who received a cruel welcome back from the disabled list after sitting out since July 10 with a right ankle sprain. He lasted just 1 1/3 innings and allowed six runs and six hits while walking two. It was the second-shortest start of his career, with a 1/3-inning appearance May 11, 2012, at Texas as the briefest.
The Rays’ effort was complete and efficient, further evidence of how far they’ve come since their darkest offensive hours in June. Outfielder Ben Zobrist knocked a season-high-tying four hits. Outfielder Brandon Guyer reached base in all four of his plate appearances, earning two singles and a walk to go along with a pitch hitting him. First baseman James Loney went 3 for 5, extending his on-base streak to 21 games. Third baseman Evan Longoria launched his team-best 13th home run of the year. Second baseman Logan Forsythe cracked his fourth.
"It makes it relaxing. It makes it easing," said Rays right-hander Chris Archer, who allowed three runs, six hits and struck out nine in six innings.
"Inside this locker room, we think we’re capable of doing what we did (tonight) every night. What we did tonight, we’re capable of doing that every night. C.J. Wilson is a good pitcher. He wasn’t throwing cookies up there. He was executing pitches, and we were hitting them."
The night was a refreshing change in the dialogue from the week’s breakneck theme. With each day that passes, as Longoria said Friday, baseball’s rhythm will place Price’s Rays career a little more in the distance. His shadow, still looming with those two empty stalls in the back of Tampa Bay’s clubhouse, will grow more faint with time.
The shock of the change will dull and evolve into a new normal. Smyly, likely to make his first Tampa Bay start next Tuesday in Oakland, will be acclimated into the Rays’ way.
Price, of course, will never be forgotten because of what he accomplished in seven years here. But like the nameplates that come and go above each clubhouse stall, the team will grow within a new reality. That’s life.
Saturday represented another night in the new era. It was a time for offense in another step away from Thursday’s demarcation point. The Rays closed a whiplash week with a victory, and for the first time in what seemed like much longer, the discussion wasn’t limited to what happened on their mound. This was a welcomed change.