Baseball / Sports

Twins fall to Price, Rays

MINNEAPOLIS--Available for trade: One All-Star-caliber pitcher, lefthanded, Cy Young Award winner, hasn't allowed a run in 16 innings, or more than three in the past two months. Contact the Minnesota Twins for references.

David Price, reportedly being shopped around by the Rays as the trade deadline approaches, crushed the Twins' back-in-the-race ambitions on Saturday, ruthlessly limiting them to four hits over eight scoreless innings as Tampa Bay cruised to a 5-1 victory at Target Field.

"When he can throw most of his pitches for strikes, mix in-and-out, get ahead of guys like he did today, he's tough," said Trevor Plouffe, whose first-inning double made him one of only two Twins to reach second base while Price was in. "He's one of the best pitchers in the game."

The Twins pointed to this 10-game homestand as their chance to take a stand against another lost summer, but Tampa Bay's pitching is making that stand look more like a cross-your-fingers fantasy. The Twins went 11 consecutive innings without touching third base, something that the Rays allowed only once Price and his fifth consecutive victory were safely watching from the dugout.

Phil Hughes, meanwhile, gave up 11 hits and five runs over seven innings in his second-half debut, absorbing the loss as the last-place Twins fell behind two more teams, Boston and these Rays, in an increasingly futile wild-card chase. They're now 10 games out of the division race, seven games behind the last playoff team, and have seven teams to climb over to get there.

"It's a little disappointing, but there's a lot of season left, a lot of games at home," Hughes said gamely. "It starts tomorrow."

Well, at least Price doesn't. The Rays' ace has now won five straight games amid where's-he-headed hysteria, and he was in utter control all night against the Twins, striking out nine -- including rookie Danny Santana four times. "Price was unbelievable. He had great stuff," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. Say, wouldn't he like to manage such a dominating left-hander once more?

"Chrysler," Gardenhire laughed at the notion. "You should walk right up to (General Manager Terry Ryan's) office and tell him that. ... He's available for a steep price."

True. It would take one of the Twins' very best prospects just to pry him away from the Rays -- think Buxton, Sano, Meyer or Stewart -- then about $18 million to cover next season, followed by a commitment of, oh, about $175 million or so to keep him from becoming a free agent 15 months from now.

Sounds like a good idea to Plouffe. "I don't think any team would pass on him," he said, though that's coming from someone who doesn't sign the checks.

OK, maybe it's a fantasy for the modest-budget Twins, just like their charge to the AL Central crown is turning out to be. Just as their chances of beating Price on a night when Hughes, who had won two straight games, didn't have his best stuff turned out to be. The Twins turned five double plays, four of them to support Hughes -- "I don't think I had four double plays all last year," said the notorious fly-ball pitcher. But when the righthander allowed four hits in the second inning, including Sean Rodriguez's two-run homer that gave the Rays a 3-0 lead, it felt more like 30-0.

"You've got to try and match him as best you can," Hughes said, "and after that home run ... your heart sinks."

Twins fans know the feeling.

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