David Price and Sonny Gray are good friends, fellow Vanderbilt alums and two pitchers who have strained relationships with the cities they currently call home.
For Price, it’s complicated. When Alex Cora announced that Price would start Sunday night’s Game 2 of the ALCS at Fenway Park, the decision created an uproar among the New England populace (or at least the sports talkies who moderate the angry mobs). Evidently, Red Sox Nation still was angry about the Yankees’ pummeling of Price in the Division Series and remains wary of his October futility.
The narrative drumbeat is difficult to silence these days, especially in the social-media era, and it again will follow Price to the mound Sunday against the Astros. The Red Sox, unlike the Yankees with their Gray situation, can’t just bury Price in the bullpen or leave him off the postseason roster entirely.
If Price wants to end his rocky marriage to Boston, he can do so himself by opting out of the final four years of his seven-year, $217-million deal when this playoff run is over. That won’t happen, of course. Nobody is going to walk away from a guaranteed $127 million — not at age 33, and not headed into an uncertain offseason that’s difficult to forecast after what happened with free agency a year ago.
Has Price been a good fit for Boston? The evidence suggests no, especially when you factor in his 2-8 record and 7.95 ERA against the Yankees (including last week’s ALDS loss) since signing with the Red Sox in 2016. But in reality, it wouldn’t take much to swing the public momentum to his side. One solid October start should do the trick, and if Boston keeps winning, with Price contributing, people tend to have short memories.
For Gray, however, there apparently will be no redemption tour. As much as we’ve discussed the extreme pressures of playing in overheated markets such as New York and Boston, it’s rare that anyone gets shipped to another city specifically for that reason. In Price’s case, a ridiculous amount of cash is keeping him tethered to the Red Sox, regardless of how much either side chafes at the connection. With Gray, there is no such bond, which is why Brian Cashman was able to be so blunt Friday about Gray’s non-future in the Bronx.
“It hasn’t worked out thus far,” Cashman said. “I think he’s extremely talented. We’ll enter the winter, unfortunately, open-minded to a relocation. To maximize his abilities, it would be more likely best somewhere else.”
Price has to know what that feels like, maybe to a lesser degree, given the media minefield he’s been forced to navigate in Boston. He’s been ripped for an aversion to cold weather — it will be 54 degrees at Sunday’s 7:09 p.m. first pitch — his affection for the video game Fortnite, and also for consistently coming up small against the Yankees.
Given his own frustrating experiences, Price was asked Saturday about Cashman’s overt willingness to jettison his Vandy pal, based on his poor performance in the Bronx. Gray was 4-4 with a 6.98 ERA in 15 games (11 starts) at Yankee Stadium, where opposing hitters teed off on him for a .318 batting average and .932 OPS. On the road, Gray was 7-5 with a 3.17 ERA in 15 games (12 starts), holding opponents to .226 and .614, respectively. To Cashman, that discrepancy grew to be more than simply coincidence.
“I think Sonny’s a really good pitcher,” Price said. “He struggled this year for New York, but it’s a tough place to pitch. And I feel for him. I talk to him all the time. But Sonny’s going to bounce back next year and have a really good season wherever he’s at.”
We don’t doubt that. Gray had a 3.42 ERA during his five years (112 starts) in Oakland, and by all accounts, there was nothing wrong with his actual pitching repertoire. But put him on that dirt hill in the middle of the Bronx, surrounded by nearly 50,000 people, and Gray frequently crumbled. There had to be a correlation, and Cashman’s theory will be proved as soon as Gray excels in Pittsburgh, Kansas City or Cincinnati.
Or maybe anywhere but New York or Boston.
“They’re tough markets to pitch in,” Price said. “I think I’ve probably pitched against New York more than any other team in my career. So I think that’s a little bit different for Sonny. He got to the East last year. It’s a tough division.
“I feel like it’s something that you get a little better with time. But this division does a really good job of making adjustments, hitters and pitchers both. So you always have to be kind of switching things up and evolving.”
In Cashman’s mind, Gray’s evolution is going to continue outside of the Bronx.