Red Sox paid Price, Martinez $317 million for nights like this
BOSTON — Building a strong farm system remains as important as ever. A strong analytics department in your front office is increasingly vital. You need to make some astute trades, maybe pick up a couple of key pieces at the trade deadline, and a lottery ticket or two is always nice.
But, you know, money doesn’t hurt.
The Boston Red Sox spent $317 million for a night like this: David Price pitching six solid innings and getting the win in a World Series game, and J.D. Martinez delivering the clutch, two-out, two-run go-ahead base hit as the Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday to take a 2-0 lead.
How big is winning the first two games? Teams with a 2-0 lead in the World Series have gone on to win it all 80.8 percent of the time.
How big was this win for Price? The man who began the postseason getting shelled at Fenway Park against the New York Yankees — he recorded only five outs before leaving to a chorus of boos from the home fans — has now won two games in a row in the postseason and his team has won his past three starts. He has pitched six innings the past two starts and given up only three hits in both outings. Suddenly the guy who couldn’t win in the postseason is the guy you want on the mound in the postseason.
Ahh, yes, October is fickle and our assignments of character are fleeting and temporary.
Before the World Series began, Price admitted beating the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series clincher was a big deal for him. “It’s definitely a weight lifted off of me for sure,” he said Tuesday. “Not like food tastes better or anything like that. But it was time. And I’m definitely glad that the time came and we moved past it. And I look forward to doing the same thing tomorrow.”
He did do the same thing — sort of. After relying on his changeup to beat Houston, he relied a lot more on his hard stuff against the Dodgers. Of his 88 pitches, 63 were fastballs, sinkers or cutters. He mixed in 25 changeups, and while he didn’t register any strikeouts with the pitch, the Dodgers went just 1-for-5 in at-bats ending with a changeup. It was a veteran performance from a guy who has been one of the better starters in the game over the past decade.
“It’s huge,” Price said of his performance Wednesday night. “This is the biggest stage in baseball. There’s no other stage that’s going to be bigger than pitching in a World Series game, unless it’s Game 7 of the World Series. To be able to do that, it feels good, for sure. I’m pumped for myself, pumped for all my teammates and coaches for us to be two wins away.”
Dave Dombrowski took over as president of baseball operations for the Red Sox in August 2015, as the team was on its way to a second straight losing season for the first time since 1994. His first big signing that winter was Price, to a seven-year, $217 million contract. Price won 17 games in 2016 and led the league in innings pitched, but some looked at the 3.99 ERA and at a bad start against the Cleveland Indians in the division series and decided the contract was an overpay.
The criticism was ratcheted up even higher last season — this is Boston, remember — when Price battled injuries for the first time in his career, made only 11 starts and had a controversial confrontation with Red Sox announcer Dennis Eckersley on a team flight.
Now, with Chris Sale struggling to get any length into games, Price is back as the headliner in the rotation.
“He was out there battling his butt off and you have to tip your hat to him,” Martinez said. “These last two outings he’s been unbelievable. And I’m so happy for him and proud of him, going through all that criticism that he’s been getting here, to bounce back to what he’s been doing. He’s a huge part of our team and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Price cruised through three hitless innings before the Dodgers scratched across a couple of runs in the fourth. It could have been worse as they loaded the bases with no outs. Price said he made some good pitches that inning, credited the Dodgers with a couple of good at-bats, but he fanned Enrique Hernandez and Austin Barnes to limit the damage.
“That was a tough inning,” Price said. “It could have spun out of control pretty fast. And it’s been one of my Achilles heels, especially in the playoffs and even in the regular season, is that big inning.”
Instead, he settled down and raced through the fifth and sixth innings, retiring the last seven batters he faced.
In the meantime, Martinez came through in the bottom of the fifth. The Dodgers were up 2-1 behind Hyun-Jin Ryu when the inning began. Ryu retired the first two batters, but then the Red Sox did what they’ve done all postseason: do damage with two outs. Hey, there’s a reason they’re wearing that postseason slogan on their T-shirts and hoodies (if not the winter parkas needed on a frigid baseball night at Fenway).
After Boston loaded the bases against Ryu, Ryan Madson came in and walked Steve Pearce to tie the score. Martinez then flared a 1-0 fastball into right field for a two-run single. He didn’t hit it hard — 80.1 mph exit velocity — and with Yasiel Puig playing a deep right field, it dropped in to put the Red Sox up 4-2.
Martinez had faced Madson in Game 1 and struck out. “I faced him yesterday and it was a very similar situation,” Martinez said. “He was a little wild and I went up there kind of passive.”
This time he told himself to trust his eyes. “Go up there and trust your eyes and if it’s a ball, it’s a ball, but don’t go up there being passive,” he said. “It wasn’t a bad pitch. It was a good pitch. I was just fortunate enough to stay inside of it and dump it in.”
Martinez, of course, was Dombrowski’s other big free-agent signing with Boston. Even though Martinez was clearly the best bat on the market, he lingered unsigned until February. Teams seemed to invent reasons not to sign him: his defense isn’t good, he was turning 31 in August, he was going to sign with the Red Sox anyway.
Maybe they were right. He did sign with the Red Sox, a five-year deal for $110 million (he has opt-out clauses after the 2019 and 2020 seasons). As with Price, consider it money well spent if the Red Sox win the World Series.
Part of the reason the Red Sox were able to land Martinez is some other big spenders took the winter off. The Dodgers and Yankees focused on getting under the luxury tax threshold, although the Yankees did trade for Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton had a solid season, but nowhere near the season Martinez had. The Giants needed a big hitter, but instead traded for Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. The Mets were messing around with Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier. The Cubs instead signed Yu Darvish. Maybe the Astros would be playing in the World Series if they had signed Martinez to be their DH or left fielder.
The great thing about the postseason is that any storyline can develop. There will be unsung heroes — the Red Sox’s relievers retired all nine batters they faced in Game 2. Brock Holt will hit for the cycle. Ryan Brasier will be the lottery ticket. Nathan Eovaldi will be that key in-season trade acquisition.
But, usually, to win a World Series, your stars have to deliver. Price is now undefeated as a World Series starter. Martinez is hitting .333/.429/.538 in the postseason with more walks than strikeouts — from a guy who struck out 33 times in April and walked only eight times.
Looking back to the day Price signed with the Red Sox, he was asked about his postseason history — he was merely 0-7 as a starter at that time.
“I was just saving all my postseason wins for the Red Sox,” Price said with a smile. “I know big things will happen to me in October. That just hasn’t been the case thus far. That will change, and I’ve worked too hard. I know I can do it.”
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