On almost every pitch, David Price had a tough time getting a good grip on the ball. The Colorado Rockies sure got hold of it, though.
Price, last season's AL Cy Young award winner, couldn't hold an early lead and gave up a season-high nine runs in the Tampa Bay Rays' 9-3 loss to Colorado on Saturday night.
In a rare start at Colorado in interleague play, Price (1-3) Said the baseballs felt slippery in the mile-high city's thin air.
"It was rough," said Price, who pitched into the seventh inning. "I felt like they were extremely slick. You try to lick your fingers and rub the ball up but it doesn't do a whole lot. So, it was tough. It was a little bit different."
The Rockies got to Price for 10 hits in 6 2-3 innings, including Carlos Gonzalez's go-ahead homer in the fifth and rookie Nolan Arenado's grand slam in the seventh. His ERA swelled to 6.25. The nine runs allowed were the most Price has given up since surrendering 10 — five earned — on June 23, 2009.
"He didn't have his normal velocity, no question," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Nothing was normal. He was uncomfortable, I think, with the grip on the balls. It can be a little bit different here. Your hands get dry. It's not about the balls. It's about your hands getting dry and slick. I think that was a problem for him for a while, but I thought he started working through it. The changeup became more alive."
Jon Garland (3-2) threw five solid innings and surrendered three runs to help the Rockies snap an 11-game home skid in interleague play.
Arenado broke open a tight game when he lined a curveball from Price (1-3) into the left field seats in the seventh. It was his first career grand slam.
"It just wasn't a very good curveball," said Price, who made his first start since his run-in with umpire Tom Hallion. He had accused Hallion of directing a profanity toward him during the Rays' win over the Chicago White Sox last Sunday. Price thought Hallion missed a pitch and exchanged words with the plate umpire while heading to the dugout after the seventh inning.
In this game, there were no confrontations with plate umpire Clint Fagan. Price didn't believe there would be, saying the day before that he didn't think umpires held grudges.
Troy Tulowitzki finished 3 for 3 with three RBIs and was hit by a pitch. The All-Star shortstop didn't start the night before because of soreness in his legs and was taken out once the Rockies built up a big lead.
Gonzalez hit a deep solo shot to center off Price in the fifth to give the Rockies a 4-3. Two innings later, Colorado added five runs. Price got two quick outs, before Gonzalez reached on a single. Evan Longoria made a nice grab on Tulowitzki's grounder, only to throw wide of the bag and allow runners to move up a base.
Ben Zobrist was then off target with Michael Cuddyer's roller, though it was later ruled a hit, allowing Gonzalez to score. After Wilin Rosario drew a walk, Arenado cleared the bases with his second homer of the season.
"David hasn't pitched his best ball to this point, and he will," Maddon said.
Addedthe Rays' Matt Joyce: "I've watched David for a while now. He's just been such a dominant pitcher over the years it's definitely weird to see that he's struggling so much. I dont think any of us have any lack of confidence in him whatsoever. I think for him, once he gets that confidence or feeling that he needs or is looking for he's going to take off."
Price believes better days are ahead as well.
"It's not coming right now but I'm going to stay up," he said. "I've got 24 guys in this locker room that are pulling for me, I know that. I'll be OK."
Price was staked to an early 3-1 lead but couldn't make it hold up. He surrendered a game-tying two-run double to Tulowitzki in the third.
That was after the Rays scored three times with two outs in the third. James Loney had a bloop double down the line and Kelly Johnson followed with a two-run single.
Loney had three hits to raise his average to.380, which would be among the AL leaders but he doesn't have enough plate appearances to qualify yet.
Colorado scored in the first when Tulowitzki laced an RBI single off the glove of Loney.
Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar left the game in the second inning after being hit on the left hand by a pitch from Garland. The team said he had a bruised hand. Maddon said he could be out three days or so.
Ryan Roberts entered as a pinch runner for Escobar and remained in the game at second, while Zobrist slid over to shortstop.
Price's next start will be a significant one as he faces NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey on Thursday. It's just the third time since both leagues awarded Cy Young awards in 1969 the winners have faced each other the following season. Dickey pitched for the New York Mets last season before being dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays.
NOTES: Tampa Bay's relievers stood in the outfield grass during batting practice and watched Orb win the Kentucky Derby on the giant scoreboard. ... The Rays' streak of home runs in 17 straight games came to a halt. ... Rockies RHP Jhoulys Chacin (strained back) will come off the 15-day DL on Sunday to face the Rays, who will counter with RHP Alex Cobb. ... Colorado will hold a bobblehead giveaway on Sunday, handing out a Vinny Castilla replica to the first 20,000 fans. ... OF Dexter Fowler sat out after tweaking his right hip flexor on Friday.