August 6, 2014 at 1:00 am

Lynn Henning

David Price dazzles, lives up to hype in Tigers' debut

David Price did his job. Marvelously, so. He pitched Tuesday night on a par with the extraordinary artist and left-handed starter he is, and for so many years has been, long before he joined the Tigers in last Thursday’s thunderous deadline trade.

And by the time the Tigers finally pulled ahead of the Yankees in the 12th inning, on Alex Avila’s rocket into the right-field seats, and beat New York, 4-3, at Yankee Stadium, the basis for Dave Dombrowski’s daring deal last week became clearer and maybe more defining for a Tigers team that’s trying to brand itself as a baseball champion.

Price was terrific Tuesday in his Tigers inaugural. He pitched a batter shy of nine innings. He struck out 10. He allowed eight hits. He was human enough along the way to have allowed a couple of solo homers, but his craftsmanship was superior.

Price kept popping his fastball combination, and the Yankees, who know him well from his days with the Rays, were often overmatched. His two-seam fastball buried batters low in the strike zone. His four-seam, which he can hum at 95 or even 96-mph, is a miserable pitch to hit when Price can throw it to four corners of a strike zone.

The fastballs make his change-up as much fun as an allergy. Hitters must brace for either of his heaters and then, cannoning from that long left arm and a frame the height of a Sequoia, comes a pitch 10 mph beneath the speed limit.

Price has one more distinction, one giant edge. He throws strikes, repeatedly. He was able to last two outs into the ninth Tuesday because he wasted so few pitches outside the zone. It sometimes can backfire, all because hitters know strikes are coming and they tend to dig in, which helps explain those two homers Tuesday.

But when you are unholstering the six-guns Price was brandishing against the Yankees it adds up to a remarkable pitching package that can have a lopsided effect on a baseball game one man rarely is able to dominate.

This was particularly critical Tuesday for the Tigers. They have been getting beaten, not by their starters, but by a balky offense and a bullpen that so often has undermined some fabulous work by their front-line pitchers.

They nearly added Price to their 2014 parade of bad-luck starters. And that, again, was because they managed only three runs until Avila’s blast in the 12th finally put the night away.

The Tigers are dealing with an almost nightly sequence of random brownouts from their batting order. It’s a situation made more glaring because Miguel Cabrera’s power has been seriously limited as he fights back from last November’s groin surgery.

With relievers often breaking down as many times as they might excel, the Tigers in effect, were beginning to look a lot like last October’s team, when the bullpen and Cabrera’s torn abdomen doomed them against Boston and probably kept them from winning the World Series.

But notice what happened Tuesday after Price left following his long and sturdy shift. The bullpen came through. First, Joba Chamberlain, and then Joakim Soria, and finally Joe Nathan. A revised script, which got a big boost from Soria, finally worked Tuesday in the image of its creator, Dombrowski, the Tigers’ front-office chief who traded for Soria a week before he landed Price.

Avila was Tuesday’s deal-sealer, even if not much about his bat has cooperated in 2014, particularly since the All-Star break. But he drove in the tying and winning runs Tuesday and has so often been said about Avila, big hits can flow from him as rapidly as they disappear. Tuesday night, he had one of those bust-out games that, in this case, helped the Tigers win an impressively pitched game they had failed to win Monday when they and Max Scherzer lost to the Yankees, 2-1.

If you want to say Tuesday’s comeback was the most important victory a Tigers team has seized in 2014, go for it. It was. The Tigers need to know Price is, in fact, a difference-maker in the brand of playoff-grade game the Tigers played Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.

The difference, though, ultimately were those other two components Tuesday: a bullpen that shut down a rugged team at one of the most difficult venues in all of baseball, as well as that soaring, 12th-inning home run, which came courtesy of a beleaguered batter who was due a moment as satisfying as Tuesday’s blast into Yankee Stadium’s seats.

Price got his share of handshakes Tuesday. He also shook his share of hands, grateful for the help he and his team will mutually need deep into October.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com
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David Price struck out 10 in 8 2/3 innings Tuesday night against the Yankees. / Jim McIsaac / Getty Images
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