ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- If this was to be David Price's farewell start for the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, he certainly left them with something to remember.
Awash in trade rumors as the Rays wallow with the worst record in baseball, the former Cy Young Award-winner tossed a five-hit gem on Wednesday as Tampa Bay downed the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-1.
In striking out 11, Price became the first since Johan Santana in 2004 to post five consecutive double-figure strikeout games. He improved to 6-7 this season, going 8 1/3 innings and walking just one.
With the Rays embarking on a 10-game road swing before the All-Star break, national media speculation has pegged that the left-hander will soon be dealt to a contender. Price is arbitration-eligible after this season and can become a free agent after 2015, which would seem to price him out of the plans of the frugal Rays organization.
"If this is my last game here, thanks," he said.
Price departed after center fielder Andrew McCutchen turned his 120th pitch into an opposite-field homer with one out in the ninth inning. It wasn't the way Price wanted to go out, he said, but he understood that seven pitches from his career-high, manager Joe Maddon was being reasonable, especially after he needed eight pitches to retire the lead-off hitter.
"Absolutely," Price said. "I understand Joe is coming out there after McCutchen hits the home run. I get it. I figured he would come out after (left fielder Josh) Harrison got out."
Maddon said he hasn't gotten caught up in the potential of a Price trade, or symbolic gestures that may or may not have happened before the game, like the pitcher taking the field alone a few seconds before the team to begin the game.
"If you're a team-oriented guy, I don't know if you don't go there because I don't," he said. "For me, it's about the Rays and the Rays doing well and David is a Ray."
Pittsburgh (39-39) had just two runners reach as far as second base before McCutchen's 12th homer of the season, and saw its most substantial rally end with two aboard in the seventh as center fielder Desmond Jennings raced to the warning track to snag a drive by second baseman Neil Walker.
The Pirates had a four-game winning streak snapped. Even manager Clint Hurdle had to appreciate Price's hand in it.
"It's always fun to watch pitchers command the baseball," Hurdle said. "And when it's against you, obviously, the challenge becomes greater."
Pittsburgh right-hander Charlie Morton had the misfortune of the matchup, falling to 4-9 after allowing just two earned runs on four hits and a walk, with 11 strikeouts in eight innings. He retired the last 10 he faced and equaled Price after an unsteady first inning that was not all of his doing as Pittsburgh committed its first error in 54 innings.
Tampa Bay (32-48) took a 3-0 lead in the first inning with the help of some uncharacteristically dubious fielding by the Pirates.
After Jennings led off with a single, shortstop Ben Zobrist tripled off the glove of McCutchen for a 1-0 lead. The former Gold Glove Award-winner had ranged far into the right-center field gap for the ball but appeared in position for a lunging catch. Zobrist scored for a 2-0 lead when shortstop Jordy Mercer muffed third baseman Evan Longoria's ground ball. Tampa Bay loaded the bases on first baseman James Loney's single off Morton's leg and left fielder Brandon Guyer being hit by a pitch and right fielder Kevin Kiermaier upped the lead to 3-0 with a sacrifice fly.
Morton seemed to dismiss or dislike Hurdle's assessment of him being "over-amped" in first innings.
"I feel like in key situations early in that first inning, I just wasn't making my pitches," Morton said.
The Rays added insurance for Price in the ninth with two runs against right-hander Jason Grilli. After Zobrist and Longoria singled, Loney drove a pitch to left for an RBI single, and Kiermaier summoned in the fifth run with a bunt hit.
NOTES: Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole, who has been sidelined since June 4 with right shoulder fatigue, will return to start on Saturday against the New York Mets, manager Clint Hurdle announced. The Pirates have not decided whom he will replace. ... Pirates LF Starling Marte passed a concussion test on Tuesday night but was not available on Wednesday in the conclusion of a three-game series against the Rays at Tropicana Field. He struck his head on the knee of second baseman Sean Rodriguez being thrown out attempting to steal second base. ... The Rays have lost 12 of their last 16 series.