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Niyo: Standing ovation may be farewell gesture to Price

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Detroit — Many in the crowd of 40,000-plus stood and cheered, and David Price tipped his cap in appreciation, as he left the field after the eighth inning Thursday at Comerica Park.

But an inning later, the Tigers’ ace was back for more. An encore, if you will.

And after facing just one batter — left-handed Kyle Seager, who promptly cracked a double to the gap in left-center field — Price headed to the dugout again, this time for good, as manager Brad Ausmus finally went to his bullpen.

Once more, the matinee crowd stood and saluted. Price patted the Old English D above his heart and grabbed the bill of his cap. And if this was goodbye, well, at least they had the chance to say it.

Asked later if he thought that might be the fans offering up a tentative farewell, what with the trade deadline a week away and no assurances he won’t be dealt, Price frowned.

“I hope it’s because I pitched into the ninth inning and gave up two runs,” he said. “But I don’t know.”

No one in the Tigers’ clubhouse does, at this point. And in that sense, it’s probably fitting — albeit painfully so — that this day ended the way it did for Price: With a no-decision.

Still, it was another crushing loss in the end for the home team, which has absorbed too many of those for the front office to ignore at this point. Or so you’d think. Team president Dave Dombrowski hasn’t thrown in the towel yet — at least not publicly — and there’s no white flag yet from ownership, whichever generation is calling the shots here.

But if the decision-makers were waiting for some sort of proof of life before paying a ransom for pitching help at the trade deadline, they certainly didn’t see it this week.

The team that came out of the All-Star break looked strikingly like the one that entered it. The Tigers went 3-4 in a seven-game homestand — losing both of Price’s starts — against two teams that are behind them in the standings. And now they head on the road for 10 games to finish out the month of July.

“Us as players have put the front office in the situation they are in,” catcher James McCann said. “If we’re sitting differently, it’d be a different story.”

But they’re not, so it isn’t. And Ausmus called that “a little frustrating” after Thursday’s loss, though his voice and his demeanor suggested it was a lot more than that, particularly as he grew agitated explaining away another late-inning bullpen move of his that backfired.

“You feel like you’re taking a step or two forward and then you take a step back,” Ausmus said, “almost like we’re just treading water a little bit.”

Some might call this drowning, actually. The Tigers began the day 101/2 games behind the division-leading Royals, and they ended it four games behind the Twins for the final wild-card spot. And though they’re headed to Boston to face the last-place Red Sox next, they’re also trotting out three starters at Fenway Park — Justin Verlander, Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene — who’ve combined for a 9.40 ERA in the month of July.

Tampa is where the Tigers go after that. And that’s also where the Tigers’ brass is expected to sit down and finally make a decision — buy or sell, or maybe both? — ahead of the July 31 deadline.

Price, of course, is the linchpin here, along with another pending free agent in Yoenis Cespedes. The latter could be a candidate for a contract extension in Detroit. But Price, acquired from Tampa Bay last year at the deadline, seems likely to sign elsewhere in the offseason, given the Tigers’ current payroll commitments and the probable suitors, including the Dodgers and Cubs.

So hanging on to him now for an outside chance at a postseason play-in game seems like something more than just wishful thinking. It seems irresponsible, which is perhaps why the fans did what they did Thursday, even if Price, who has allowed two runs or fewer in 11 of his last 12 starts, insists he’s not thinking about moving on just yet.

“It’s out of my control,” said Price, whose next start is scheduled for Tampa, of all places. “So there’s no point in thinking about it.”

That the Tigers are still thinking about it — other teams around the league reportedly are hearing “not yet” when inquiring about Price and other potential trade pieces — may simply be a matter of timing.

Because if Thursday was the encore, and as awkward as it felt, the final curtain might be next.

john.niyo@detroitnew.com

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