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Price focused only on Saturday, not the future

Game 2 start could be left-hander's final appearance with the club

BOSTON -- David Price will admit that his mind has wandered, at times, toward the future. It comes up every so often that he probably isn't going to be with the Rays much longer, and the topic came up again on Friday afternoon.

Could Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Saturday, to be broadcast on TBS at 5:30 p.m. ET, be Price's last start with Tampa Bay? What's going to happen this offseason? As much as he's thought about this in the past, Price said the subject hasn't been on his mind lately.

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In fact, he won't allow himself to think about it. His focus is solely on getting the Rays as deep into the postseason as possible, and everyone around him says that's resulted in him pitching with a different energy than he's ever had.

"Honestly, this is a time right now for pure excitement, pure joy for our team," Price said. "Those thoughts have crossed my mind, but they haven't in a couple of weeks. And that's good. I want those thoughts to stay away. I want to enjoy my time here. Whatever happens, I want to completely absorb myself and my team and my teammates like we have all year. And that's a big part of why we're here right now."

Another reason the Rays are here, of course, is because Price got them to the AL Wild Card Game with a dominant performance in Game 163, allowing two runs on seven hits in a complete-game win over the Rangers. And after a mistake-filled, 12-2 loss to the Red Sox in Game 1, the Rays could use Price at his best in Game 2.

"I just think that's called focus. I really believe that with him, what he did in Texas a couple of nights ago, is really going to benefit him as a Major League pitcher now and in the future," manager Joe Maddon said. "If there's any mental hurdles to overcome, he overcame them on that specific night.

"I'm really eager to see his next performance, because I think it's going to be as good as he can be based on what he's done, where his confidence is right now and this time of the year. He's very jacked up about this whole thing."

Right-hander Alex Cobb said there's more to it than just excitement, however. Price has taken all of the pressure of the postseason on his shoulders, becoming the leader most people would expect a No. 1 starter to be.

The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner is also pitching with more anger than Cobb has ever seen, and his intensity on the mound has been contagious.

"When he's out there, he's not out there to have fun. He's on a mission," Cobb said. "That's what a leader does. He shows you the way to go about the business."

For the most part, that's what Price has done since rejoining the rotation on July 2. Before that it was shaping up to be a down year for Price, as he stumbled out of the gate with a 1-4 record and 5.24 ERA. The league was hitting .294 and slugging .471 against him before a strained left triceps forced him to go on the disabled list.

Outfielder Sean Rodriguez remembers doing an interview at around that time, and the topic turned to Price. Rodriguez was told that Price would have to be nearly perfect from that point in order to salvage a good season. In 18 starts since then, Price has gone 9-4 with a 2.53 ERA and thrown four complete games, tied with Chicago's Chris Sale for most in the AL.

So, about that perfect second half...

"He came pretty close," Rodriguez said, smiling. "And that last start was definitely perfect."

Price has been pretty close to perfect against the Red Sox throughout his career, even more so at Fenway Park. In 20 starts against Boston, he is 10-6 with a 2.93 ERA. At Fenway he's 6-1 with a 1.88 ERA and two complete games in 10 starts. One of those complete games here came this year, on July 24, when he gave up one run on five hits and struck out four.

"He presents a tall challenge, for sure," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "I don't know if he can pitch any better than he did back in July here, where he was flat-out dominant against us."

Price couldn't explain on Friday why he's been so successful against the Red Sox, instead offering a smile as he said, "I can't give you all my secrets." But he admitted that he gets more amped up when he's going to face Boston or New York, and if his recent performances are any indication, that kind of energy bodes well.

"You know the history behind those franchises. You know what they're capable of doing," he said. "Every single year, year in, year out, they're going to be a postseason team, and you know you're going to have to come with your best. If you come with your 'B' game, 'B-plus' game, you have a pretty good chance to lose.

"It heightens your awareness. You start feeling butterflies probably a day earlier than you normally would. Pitching in this ballpark, pitching against that team, it makes you want it just a little bit more."

What Price wants now is another win, another step toward the World Series. Then, when that's out of the way, maybe he'll let his mind wander back toward the future.

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.

Tampa Bay Rays, David Price