David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BOSTON - By the time next season rolls around, David Price probably won't be pitching for the Rays. Not a year away from free agency. He could be headed elsewhere in a swap for the next Wil Myers, or another top prospect from any number of clubs with the financial might to lock him up long-term.
That's life in small-market Tampa Bay, and it's too bad for Price that what may have been his final pitch in a Rays uniform wound up sailing past the Pesky Pole for David Ortiz's second homer Saturday night. Price had allowed only two home runs by lefthanded hitters all year before Ortiz dented him twice in the span of eight innings.
Because this is the playoffs, a time of year when Price is never at his best, he wasn't in a great mood to handle questions about the 7-4 loss, which dropped the Rays into yet another must-win situation Monday at Tropicana Field. Technically, it will be their fourth elimination game in nine days, starting with the season finale against the Blue Jays.
When Price was asked if he ever thought about the possibility of Saturday's game being his farewell start for the Rays, he glared at the reporter before delivering an emphatic "No." That also ended the interview.
But it wasn't just Big Papi who ruined Price's night, and maybe his Tampa Bay goodbye. The Red Sox roughed up Price for nine hits and seven runs in seven-plus innings, dropping his postseason record to 0-4 with a 5.81 ERA in four starts.
For Price, coming off the emotional high of last Monday's complete-game victory over the Rangers in the play-in game, this had to be a crushing reversal.
A day earlier, the former Cy Young winner had talked at length about his rent-a-bike excursions through the tight Boston streets, with Joe Maddon describing Price as a "Peter Pan" with a fierce competitive streak. But all that was peeled away after this defeat, with Price left raw by his failure to keep the relentless Sox in check.
"I'm still pumped up," Price snapped. "We're still in this. We've been playing Game 7s for the last week."
And Price himself? "I'm fine," he said. "I'll be OK."
The odds are Price won't get the ball again this October because the Rays won't be sticking around for much longer. They just can't stop the Red Sox, who seized on a freakish screw-up by Myers in rolling to Friday's 12-2 rout and harassed Price to jump ahead 2-0 in this Division Series.
Despite Price's shaky postseason resume, he had pitched very well at Fenway Park, where he was 6-1 with a 1.88 ERA and two complete games. He had allowed two or fewer runs in eight of 10 career starts at Fenway. But Price found himself down 2-0 after the first inning and 4-1 after four.
That must have been deflating for the Rays. But Price threw 118 pitches last Monday in Game No. 163 against Texas, and Ortiz believes that may have taken a toll.
"The one thing that I noticed about him, his fastball wasn't like it used to be," Oritz said. "He pitched five days ago, a complete game. And a complete game to end the season can catch up with you. It wasn't a bad fastball, but not 96, 98, like he used to. It wasn't like you normally expect."
To Price, Ortiz was the same as always -- and he evidently had a big problem with Big Papi's behavior. When Ortiz drilled his second homer, a long fly ball that soared even higher than the foul pole, Price was annoyed that the slugger stood to watch its flight.
"He stares at it to see if it's fair or foul -- I'm sure that's what he would say," Price said. "As soon as he hit it and I saw it, I knew it was fair. Run."
Once Ortiz began his loping strides to first base, Maddon was on his way to the mound. But Price kept his back to the Rays' dugout, maybe thinking about the one thing he later told everyone that he wasn't.
"I wasn't annoyed," Price said.
No one would blame him if he were.