"I knew I was going in at some point," Price said.
But not anytime on Saturday.
Price's long-awaited bullpen call came after 1 a.m. ET, with the score deadlocked, 8-8, and Boston threatening with one out and a runner on first base in the 11th inning. Three batters later, Price had wriggled out of the jam, securing his first Major League victory -- albeit a postseason one, when the Rays scored in the bottom of the inning. He became the first pitcher to win a postseason game before his first regular-season victory since Josh Kinney of the Cards beat the Mets in Game 2 of the 2006 NLCS.
The 9-8 win wasn't just a big moment for Price. It was a must-win for the Rays, who evened the ALCS as it shifts to Boston.
"He's a guy that wants the ball out there, and it doesn't matter the situation," said reliever Dan Wheeler, who tossed a gutsy 3 1/3 innings before Price took the hill. "He's so excited every day to be here ... and to make some big pitches and get out of that jam, I was so happy for him to get the 'W' right there."
The Rays' top pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, Price flew through the Minors less than four months after his professional debut, getting a callup to the big leagues on Sept. 13.
But securing Saturday's win wasn't exactly smooth sailing.
Price walked his first batter, Jed Lowrie, to give the Red Sox a pair of baserunners and put the tying run in scoring position. Catcher Dioner Navarro came out to the mound and told Price to relax and just hit the mitt. First baseman Carlos Pena joined the pow-wow, and told Price to block out the sellout crowd and pretend that he was throwing a backyard bullpen session with his dad.
"These guys just know how to make people really feel comfortable," Price said.
"Obviously, [Saturday night] has greater emphasis than any other game I've ever played in. But yeah, I just did try to put it in perspective. And it's still 60 feet, six inches to home plate. So I guess it's the same thing I've been doing for 22 years."
By the next batter, Price had settled in and was back to seeing that familiar swing-and-miss. The powerful lefty fanned Boston's Mark Kotsay and got Coco Crisp to ground out to squash the Red Sox's extra-inning threat.
"He's ready," Navarro said. "I mean he's good to be in this place. He's going to be an unbelievable help for us through the whole postseason."
Price is the fourth pitcher all-time to earn his first Major League win in the postseaon, joining Kinney; the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez, who beat the Yankees in Game 2 of the 2002 ALDS; and Odalis Perez, who beat the Cubs in Game 2 of the 1998 NLDS while he was with the Braves.
? Afterward, a smiling but visibly drained Price admitted the game felt every bit as long as its official five hours and 27 minutes.
But that wait was nothing when compared to the 23 years he longed for the customary beer shower he received postgame from his teammates.
"In October, there's different heroes every day," fellow rookie Evan Longoria said. "The biggest guy today was probably Price being able to come in and shut the door and get that win."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less