Toronto — Brad Ausmus first delivered the news. Dave Dombrowski and Al Avila were next to head for Camden Yards’ bullpen and explain events on that Friday five weeks ago, in Baltimore, when David Price learned he was being traded from Detroit to the Blue Jays.
“It was just kind of a hard time,” Price said Friday after he had spent an hour or more kibitzing with Tigers teammates and staff in the visitor’s clubhouse at Rogers Centre, where Detroit was dressing for a three-game weekend series against the Jays.
“It wasn’t really an uneasy feeling, but you like to know what’s gonna happen, and no one really knew that."
Price was clasping hands Friday and talking as casually with his old Tigers teammates as if he were still Detroit’s kingpin starter.
But he now belongs to Toronto. A first-place team in the American League East has upped its World Series stock, in part because Price is commanding Toronto’s starting rotation and doing for manager John Gibbons’ pitching what another July trade target, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, has brought to a fearsome Jays lineup.
Price was dealt a day before July’s deadline and two days after then-general manager Dave Dombrowski notified owner Mike Ilitch the Tigers had no realistic chance at adding a starter to stoke their own playoff dream.
The Tigers, Dombrowski said, had few practical options but to deal Price, blue-chip outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, and, as it turned out, bullpen closer Joakim Soria, for young talent that might stock Detroit’s denuded farm system and rebuild pitching depth.
A few days later, and Dombrowski, too, was gone. Fired by Ilitch.
“Great guy,” Price said of Dombrowski, who a year earlier had traded for Price in a three-team mega-deal that brought Price from Tampa Bay to Detroit.
Price was still coming to grips Friday with how life changed so dramatically, in days it seemed, for a team that had won the past four American League Central titles. For a team that so often was busy in July adding players ahead of its nearly annual trip to October’s playoffs.
“The Tigers were always buyers,” Price said, standing in a clubhouse corridor, wearing warm-up togs and a Blue Jays cap. “They were always playoff runs.
“But, at the time,” he said, thinking of those closing hours in July, “they probably did the right thing.”
Price worked Wednesday’s victory against the Rangers and will not pitch against the Tigers this weekend. Which is probably good fortune for his old mates. He was regularly terrific for the Tigers and has been even more dominating in five starts for the Blue Jays: 4-0 record, 1.98 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
“I always wanted to see Rogers Centre filled,” he said, speaking of new and good times in Toronto, which features a nifty downtown condo where he lives a short distance from the ballpark. “It (Toronto) has been everything I imagined and more.”
But what he left was special. And painful, to the extent that leaving teammates and friends is always difficult in baseball. Hence, that long, leisurely visit Friday with his old Tigers buddies.
“One of the better people in the game,” said Ausmus, the Tigers manager who traded a hug with Price when they had their own one-on-one reunion. “I just wish he didn’t have a Blue Jays hat on.
“One of the things that stood out about David is that he was always the first guy in the clubhouse, whether it was to work out, or play cribbage, or just hang out with the guys.
“It was hard for me to beat him here.”
It’s hard these days for anyone to beat Price. He, of course, will welcome free agency in 10 weeks or so. But until then he belongs to the Jays, a team with World Series credentials fortified mightily by a trade the Tigers wish they hadn’t had to make.