David Price, finally a Red Sox hero, forges new postseason reputation
BOSTON — Picture Game 6 of this Red Sox-Dodgers World Series, back here at Fenway Park on Tuesday after the Dodgers go to L.A. and win two of three, leaving Boston clinging to a 3-2 series lead. Picture, too, a 35-degree night, the leather of the baseball slick and near frozen. Heck, picture a 25-degree night. With 30-mph winds. Oh, and picture a blizzard, or a tsunami.
Picture, through it all, David Price throwing a complete-game shutout, giving Boston the World Series title with his third consecutive win and completing what is becoming a full-fledged turnaround for one of this city’s most reviled current sporting figures.
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Maybe they’d erect a statue of Price out on Van Ness Street. For a guy who has mostly been a piñata in these parts until the past week, it’d be a major upgrade.
OK, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves in the excitement around how Price pitched Wednesday night, when he threw six innings in frigid conditions — he was considered too soft to perform when the weather turned cold, with the poor numbers to prove it — and allowed two runs on three singles and three walks. The Red Sox won 4-2, now halfway to their fourth championship in 14 years.
After the game, Price was asked what has changed in his past two starts.
“I have,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in being able to evolve from pitch to pitch or from game to game, whatever it is. Being able to make adjustments on the fly, and it’s paid off.”
Should the Red Sox finish the series before Price takes the mound again, this start will mark the high point of an about-face in the relationship between Price and the moaner-and-grumbler crowd that dominates Boston’s sports scene. Since signing a seven-year, $224 million contract in 2015, Price has been a target here for failing to be the ace (despite a record of 39-19 with a 3.74 ERA) that $33 million annually suggests he should be.
He’s also been a target for his flops as a postseason pitcher, for his inability to stay healthy, for his struggles when pitching against the Yankees and for his weird berating of Hall of Famer and Red Sox broadcaster Dennis Eckersley on the team plane last year. That is why just about any story about him includes his hefty contract numbers. Including this one.
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But Price began his path to redemption back in Game 2 of the ALCS, when he got a standing ovation for going 4 2/3 innings and managing to exit the game with a Red Sox lead in hand. That was a low bar, but as a guy who had been 0-9 with a 6.03 ERA in his postseason career as a starter, a low bar was prudent.
Manager Alex Cora has never wavered in his confidence in Price, even as his return to a starting role in the postseason got off to a rocky start against New York in the Division Series — he was pulled in the second inning after giving up three runs and two homers.
“Today, he was amazing,” manager Alex Cora said Wednesday night. “Like I said, in Houston, I get it, the numbers and all that, but this guy is a great pitcher. He has been one of the best pitchers in the big leagues for a while, and he cares. I’m very happy for him that now, he can keep pitching. There’s not gonna be questions in spring training about David Price in October. He beat the Houston Astros in Houston, he beat the Dodgers in Fenway Park. I’m happy for that, because he deserves it.”
It was that game in Houston, Game 5 of the ALCS, that began Price’s march to redemption. He went six innings and struck out nine in leading Boston to a series-clinching, 4-1 win, his first postseason victory as a starter. After that one, Price said, he was feeling less pressure on Wednesday, and was not even dreading questions from local reporters.
“I guess lighter is a good word, yeah,” Price said heading into Game 2. “We had media day. I got to look forward to it for the first time in a long time. It’s definitely a weight lifted off of me for sure. Not like food tastes better or anything like that. But it was time.”
For most of his outing against L.A., Price was as good as he’d been in the closeout game against Houston. In fact, Game 2 was arguably a better outing. He never got into a real jam in his win against the Astros, only allowing a runner into scoring position once.
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Against the Dodgers, Price had a perilous fourth inning. Price excels when working the corners with his fastball, but in the fourth, home plate umpire Kerwin Danley turned tough on Price, not giving him those edge-of-the-plate strikes he needs. Price gave up two singles before getting Chris Taylor into a 2-2 count. He missed on his next two pitches, first inside and then low by a combined margin of about 3 inches, and walked the bases full.
But Price did not melt down from there the way he’s done so many times in his Red Sox career. Too often, a walk on a couple of missed pitches he thought he should have had would send Price unraveling. Here, though, he escaped allowing just two runs, on a sacrifice fly from Matt Kemp and a single by Yasiel Puig.
“You’ve got to give credit to Price, he made pitches when he needed to,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts lamented. “We had him, we had him on the ropes.”
In normal times, that would be true. But these are not normal times for Price. He retired six straight in the fifth and sixth innings, using just 21 pitches. It was such a rare sight for the local rooters, Price pitching through trouble, recovering, and still looking like an ace to close his outing.
“We kind of expected it,” Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts said. “He holds high standards for himself and so we do to. Going out and embracing the pressure, he’s pitching great.”
Price has now dismantled two of the game’s most potent offenses in back-to-back starts, and he has done it on October’s stage. Maybe we’ll see him one more time as a starter this October, should the series return to Fenway for a Game 6. Or, maybe the next time we see Price, he’ll be posing for that statue
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