David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
David Price was where he was supposed to be Monday night at Rogers Centre. On the mound, with a division title at stake, the Yankees staring back at him.
It's why the Blue Jays got him, right?
Sometimes, if you're lucky, life goes according to plan. And when Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos traded for Price, Monday night's 4-2 victory was what he must have imagined.
Better yet? Price did it to the Yankees. He allowed two hits and struck out seven over seven scoreless innings, then left to an extremely loud standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 47,648. On his way to the dugout, Price made sure to applaud the fans himself.
"Just paying my gratitude toward them," Price said.
Obviously, the feeling is mutual. And even if the love affair ends in the next few weeks -- Price is a pending free agent -- this has been a worthwhile fling. Monday night, Price also showed the importance of having a legitimate ace down the stretch, something that the Yankees won't for this critical series.
Barring a 28th world championship, the Yankees' passing on Price at the trade deadline will be debated for a while -- even as Greg Bird, who hit his ninth homer Monday night, and Tuesday's starter Luis Severino flourish. But there's no point in obsessing over that now. Price says he's not.
"I'm here," Price said. "That's all I'm worried about. I'm not worried about what's going on in other places or New York. I'm not thinking about the Yankees."
Frankly, the Yankees have their own problems, starting with Masahiro Tanaka being back in New York, resting a Grade 1 hamstring strain, essentially on ice until they get a better feel for the most likely playoff scenario. The two aces weren't going to face each other anyway, not after Tanaka lost to the Mets last Friday. But the original plan had Tanaka set up for Wednesday's finale, a spot now occupied by the recently demoted Ivan Nova.
As Joe Girardi is fond of saying, this week's pitching matchups are not what you want, from a Yankees' perspective. And after a draining Subway Series weekend at Citi Field, drawing Price -- a top Cy Young candidate -- Monday night was not an ideal situation.
"Price has always been good," said Alex Rodriguez, who reacted angrily after striking out with the bases loaded in the third inning. "It's seems like he's taken his game to a whole 'nother level."
Scavenging for a few runs off Price was only part of the problem, however. There also was the not-so-small matter of squeezing what the Yankees could from converted starter Adam Warren, who's been filling in for the injured Nathan Eovaldi. The only thing Brian Cashman knows for sure about Eovaldi is that his aching elbow won't allow him back during the regular season, and that's probably not such a great indicator for a playoff cameo, either.
But that's thinking a bit too far ahead, something the Yankees don't have the luxury of doing in the middle of what is probably the final battle for AL East supremacy. Their first priority Monday night was seeing how long Warren could contain the Blue Jays with just 85 pitches.
And unlike the seasoned Price, who thrived on the emotional current flowing inside Rogers Centre, Warren got electrocuted by it in allowing three runs during the first inning. The first three Blue Jays reached base, on a pair of singles and Josh Donaldson getting grazed on his jersey by a Warren inside pitch. Justin Smoak also dented him with a run-scoring double over Carlos Beltran's head.
"Maybe I was too amped up," said Warren, who threw 82 pitches before being lifted with one out in the fourth. "I think I was trying to make the best pitch in the world rather than trusting my stuff. Over-thinking it, I guess."
Losing Tanaka, even if it's just the one turn as the Yankees say, may end up being the difference in the division. And that's probably what they're thinking already. When asked where Tanaka would slot back in, once he's healthy again, both Girardi and Cashman suggested it would be predicated on the Yankees' playoff positioning.
Thanks to Price, we're fairly certain it won't be as AL East champs.