BRADENTON -- David Price wasn't yet a rookie when he closed out Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series in front of roughly 40,000 fans inside a throbbing Tropicana Field.
He has started the first and last games of the American League Division Series. He registered the save in the only World Series win in the history of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Yet Friday night at McKechnie Field, Price, the American League's reigning Cy Young Award winner, was nervous.
It may have just been another Florida State League game between the high Class-A Bradenton Marauders and Price's Charlotte Stone Crabs. But for Price, who is working his way back from a triceps strain, it was the first rehab start during his first stint on the disabled list.
"It was the first time I was out there in six weeks," Price said. "My legs, they were shaking. It felt like it was the first spring training game, the first game of the year or pitching in the postseason with those jitters. So it was good to have that feeling back, because I hadn't had that in a long time. Just getting out there and being competitive is what you want to do.
"And that was the biggest thing -- getting out there and facing opposing hitters, and hearing the walk-up song, hearing the PA guy announce the hitter -- it's all new to me. It's been a month and a half since I've done that."
Price threw 49 pitches in 2 1/3 innings in his first appearance as a Stone Crab, throwing 28 strikes while allowing two runs, one of which was earned. He allowed two singles, walked two and struck out four.
Delayed nearly two hours by rain, the game went the way of the Marauders, who kicked off the season's second half with a 4-3 win.
Price, meanwhile, was happy with how he felt.
"I didn't throw as many strikes as I wanted to (Friday), but it's a step," Price said while standing in McKechnie Field's cramped visiting clubhouse. "I felt good, threw (49) pitches and my arm feels very good right now."
Price struck out Bradenton's first hitter, Alen Hanson, one of the Pittsburgh Pirates' top prospects and the MVP of the Florida State League All-Star game, on five pitches, before walking Junior Sosa and Dan Gamache.
But Price responded by fanning Stetson Allie and Willy Garcia.
The Stone Crabs' defense failed Price in the second. Jose Osuna singled and scored when second baseman Hector Guevara misplayed Carlos Mesa's pop-up. Right fielder Drew Vettleson tried to gun Osuna out at second, but his throw sailed down the third-base line and Osuna scored.
Up to 41 pitches after two innings, Price went back out for third and allowed a leadoff single to Hanson. After Sosa grounded out, Price was removed, and he tipped his cap while the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
He then jogged back to the clubhouse and spent 10 minutes signing autographs.
"They just wanted me to get up for that third time for sure, and that's the biggest thing," Price said. "It's not the pitch count, but it's the sitting down and getting back up and doing that numerous times."
Friday's start came more than a week after Price experienced soreness June 13 during a simulated game. Price blamed himself for that and considered it a growing experience.
"I needed a little bit of extra time because it had been a while since I've been out there, and I put forth 110 percent effort, and it got me a little bit those next two days," Price said. "But I feel fine and I expect to (Saturday)."
Rays manager Joe Maddon agreed.
"I think there was some abnormal soreness based on that effort level, but moving forward I think he learned a little bit of a lesson," he told reporters last week at Fenway Park. "Guy's never been hurt before; sometimes they don't know the difference between soreness and pain and what that exactly means. Soreness is not a bad thing. Pain is bad. And he was just abnormally sore."
The Rays hope to have Price back by near or after the All-Star break, but both the pitcher and team said he is on a "game-by-game" basis, and he will be evaluated after each start.
And though the lefty was off to a 1-4 start with a 5.24 ERA, a healthy Price could give a jolt to a pitching staff that has underachieved so far this season.
He took a big step in that direction Friday.
"Just like hitting, pitching is contagious," Price said. "Once you have that one guy get on a roll, it just feeds to the other four. That's what we need to do, and I expect them to do it before I get back. If it happens, I'm looking forward to getting back up there and helping them win games.
"You want to make sure you wake up and feel good, so I don't want to rush it back. They want me back to stay back, and that's my intention as well."