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MIL@TB: Price fans six in seven innings of work

ST. PETERSBURG -- If David Price has to go out, this isn't how he wanted to do it. But now all he can do is wait.

As Thursday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline nears, Price, at the center of swirling trade rumors, made what could be his last start in a Rays uniform at Tropicana Field on Wednesday, taking the loss in a 5-0 setback to the Brewers.

After the game, both Price and manager Joe Maddon said that, come Friday, they expect him to still be with Tampa Bay.

In Wednesday's series finale, Price gave up four runs (three earned) in seven innings, lacking the command that had produced one of the most dominant stretches in baseball over the last couple of months. The Brewers tagged the left-hander for the most runs he's allowed in a game since June 4.

"Balls in the middle of the plate, stuff like that," Price said. "I didn't make pitches when I needed to in the second inning. I walked two guys there, and whenever you walk two guys in one inning you're probably going to give up at least one run, if not more."

It was more -- after those two walks in the second inning, Martin Maldonado hit a two-run, bases-loaded single off Price. Price also allowed runs on an Aramis Ramirez RBI single in the third and an RBI ground-rule double by Maldonado in the sixth. Meanwhile, Yovani Gallardo shut out a quiet Rays offense over seven frames.

"It always feels good, especially when they're going for the sweep and they have their best pitcher on the mound," Maldonado said of his breakout game. "I think everybody knew to be patient at the plate, especially since that's a great pitcher over there. I think you have to calm yourself down and try to hit your pitch."

There wasn't much fanfare as Price walked off the mound after the top of the seventh inning, having thrown 113 pitches while striking out six. There was no prolonged ovation in appreciation of Price's body of work with Tampa Bay -- maybe because the fans believe their ace is staying in St. Pete, given the way the Rays have been playing of late.

Even with Wednesday's loss, Tampa Bay nonetheless took two of three games from the National League Central-leading Brewers, hitting Maddon's "Win series" goal for the fifth straight set. The Rays have still won 11 of their last 13 games, and they're still a Major League-best 29-13 since June 11 -- the day after their lowest point of the season, when they had baseball's worst record at 24-42.

"We did get the series win, and that is the first objective. Mission accomplished," Maddon said. "You want to get greedy there with David pitching."

With two months of the season left to play, Tampa Bay is two games under .500 and in contention in the American League East and AL Wild Card races. Amid all the trade talk, Price has been at the head of that surge, pitching what he has called the best baseball of his career.

Before Wednesday, Price had thrown at least eight innings in eight of his past nine starts -- winning six straight -- as his teammates rallied around him, trying to force the Tampa Bay front office's hand by playing well enough to keep Price around.

"I know it's been hanging over our heads," Maddon said of the speculation. "However, we've done a wonderful job with it. I can't complain about our results."

Was it all enough? On Thursday, the Rays will have their answer.

Price has already dealt with one potential "last start at The Trop" this year -- his June 25 outing against the Pirates, when he dominated for 8 1/3 innings and left to a standing ovation. With the Rays still the dregs of the Major Leagues at that point, many had predicted Price would be traded during the ensuing road trip, and Price thanked the fans after the game.

More than a month later, Price is still with the Rays and going through the same situation all over again. Did he have another "last start" message for the fans?

"I don't know," Price said. "I haven't been traded."

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