August 27, 2014 at 1:00 am

David Price's 'worst game I've ever had' drops Tigers 2.5 games behind Royals

Detroit — As good as a performance may get in baseball, you can almost always find one better.

But the opposite also is true.

As bad as a performance may get, you can almost always find one worse.

David Price, therefore, consider yourself introduced to what two Houston Astros’ pitchers did in the first inning of a game against Cincinnati in 1989.

But let’s delay that introduction until after a review of what took place in the third inning of Price’s fifth start as a Tiger in Wednesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Yankees.

In a word, it was ugly.

In more words, it was “probably the worst game I’ve ever had in my life,” Price said.

With the loss, the Tigers fell 2.5 games behind the victorious Royals, who lead the American League Central. For the second wild-card spot, the Tigers still trail the Mariners by a half game.

Price, who allowed one hit in his last start — and only four hits in his last two combined — encountered early trouble, but hadn’t allowed a run going into the third.

The Tigers also hadn’t scored off Yankees’ starter, and eventual winner, Shane Greene (4-1)

But because Price (1-2 as a Tiger) had given up hits to start each of the first two innings, Jacoby Ellsbury’s leadoff single in the third did not exactly interrupt his effectiveness.

Because his effectiveness must not have had a ticket to the game.

“I’m human and I have had bad games before,” said Price, “but not that bad.”

“They hit some balls hard off him; they hit some balls not so hard that found some holes,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “Just an off night for David Price.”

Ellsbury stole second (taking advantage of a bad throw to second) — after which Derek Jeter, the night’s honoree, doubled him in.

This was Jeter’s night in more ways than one. The Tigers paid tribute to his fine career before the game, and as if feeling like he had to give something back to the fans, he painted them a picture of a much-younger Jeter with a spin move behind second base while throwing out Nick Castellanos in the second.

However, if you remember Jeter for his many opposite-field hits, you were able to witness one of those as well — because that’s how Jeter drove in the first run of the Yankees’ third.

Their eight-run third.

Indeed, the parade was just beginning.

“That double was a vintage swing for Jeter, kind of inside out, a line drive to right,” Ausmus said.

Incredibly enough, Price was on his way to giving up nine hits in a row.

Some, as Ausmus said, were hit hard. Some weren’t. Some bounced safely through the infield. Some dribbled to where no Tiger could pick it up in time.

But it all boiled down to one annoying thought.

“I let the team down,” Price said. “And that’s the worst thing.”

When Price left after the nine hits, he had done something that hadn’t been done since Houston’s Bob Forsch in 1989.

Along with the two sacrifice flies off Blaine Hardy that followed, the barrage provided the Yankees with an 8-0 lead which the Tigers were able to cut in half.

But they were pretty much out of it from the third inning on.

That’s not to say the bullpen didn’t do a fine job, because by keeping the Yankees off the board after the third, it did.

And Victor Martinez accounted for one of the Tigers’ runs with his career-best 26th home run.

But there was no overcoming what took place in the Yankees’ big inning.

Now back to where this “can-always-find-something-worse” comparison began — and this time something worse than was happened to Price occurred when the Reds beat the Astros 18-2 on Aug. 3, 1989.

It wasn’t bad enough when Astros starter Jim Clancy left after allowing six hits in a row in the first inning, but Forsch — in relief with one out — gave up nine hits in a row en route to a 14-run, 16-hit first inning for the Reds.

That won’t lessen the surprise of Price also allowing nine in a row. The eight runs charged to him marked the worst inning of his career.

But at least you know that somewhere else and to someone else, it has happened before.

tom.gage@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/Tom_Gage

After allowing nine consecutive hits, Tigers starter David Price finally is relieved for the night by manager Brad Ausmus on Wednesday at Comerica Park. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News