BOSTON (AP) — David Price is in quite a groove, one perhaps even better than his 2012 American League Cy Young Award winning season.
Price pitched a five-hitter for his third complete game of the season, Wil Myers had a two-run single, and the surging Tampa Bay Rays won for the 19th time in 22 games by beating the Boston Red Sox 5-1 on Wednesday night.
Price (5-5) needed only 97 pitches — 72 strikes — for his seventh career complete game. He struck out four and didn't walk a batter.
Since returning from a 47-day stint on the disabled list because of a triceps strain, he is 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA in five starts — with three of the last four complete games.
"Absolutely," Price said when asked if he is better now than any time a year ago. "Last year, I feel like I had complete control of two pitches. Right now, honestly, I feel like I have four pitches I can throw at any time."
The 27-year old left-hander overpowered Boston's hitters, relying on a hard mid-90s fastball and sharp slider to lower his career ERA to 1.96 in Fenway Park. That is the lowest mark among active pitchers with at least 20 innings there.
"I didn't know what to expect when he came back," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's just hard to imagine a guy pitching better than he is now. I don't think I've seen it in regards to quality of pitches and stuff, location against a good hitting ballclub."
Even Price, 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA last season, feels like the club's pitchers are dominating at an amazing pace.
"It's just like hitting," he said. "You hear it all the time — hitting is contagious. So is pitching. We've been on a good groove, It's been fun. We feel like we have five guys that can go out there and win anytime. I don't think there are many teams in the majors that can say that."
Since dropping into the AL East basement by percentage points on June 23, the Rays have relied on starting pitching to go 22-5. Tampa Bay's starters have a majors' best 2.21 ERA during the run.
"He was throwing strikes all night long," Boston manager John Farrell said of Price. "I think up until about the sixth inning he was right around 80 percent strikes, which is almost unheard of. He never gave us a chance to build any kind of inning. Tip your hat. He pitched one heck of a game against us."
James Loney had two hits and drove in a run for the Rays. Tampa Bay moved within a half-game of the AL East-leading Red Sox.