Two amazing things happened Sunday night during the fifth inning of David Price’s ALCS Game 2 start against the Astros.
First, Price was still pitching, a remarkable accomplishment in itself. Almost like Eli Manning remaining upright on consecutive plays.
The second was even harder to comprehend. When Price was pulled one out shy of being eligible for his first postseason win as a starter in 11 tries, he handed the baseball to Alex Cora, stepped off the mound and received a standing ovation from the Fenway Park crowd.
That’s right. Everyone on their feet, cheering like crazy, overflowing with gratitude, because Price was able to last 4 2⁄3 innings and leave with a 5-4 lead — after initially blowing a 2-0 cushion, then teeing up Marwin Gonzalez’s tiebreaking homer off a Green Monster billboard.
Price didn’t pitch long enough to get the victory, but the Red Sox won, 7-5, and that was sufficient reward in his mind.
“If it’s baby steps, it’s baby steps,” he said. “All I want to do is win. I put myself aside. This isn’t about me. I understand the narratives. I get that. I deserve those narratives. But this is bigger than David Price.”
Price’s performance wasn’t even in the ballpark of a quality start. His postseason ERA, as a starter, actually went up from 6.03 to 6.16. But we’re in a far more forgiving era when it comes to starting pitchers in October, and Price, by this new standard, did his job, more or less.
“He gave his team a chance to win,” Alex Cora said.
Forget that Price earned $30 million this year and is due another $127 million through 2022 — if he doesn’t opt out after this playoff run (no shot). Or that he’s a former Cy Young Award winner with a career 3.25 ERA in 299 regular-season games.
Technically, Price owns the title of No. 2 starter for the 108-win Red Sox, the AL East champs and arguably baseball’s best team for six months. But when it comes to October, the Red Sox lower the bar to grasshopper height for Price, and somehow he managed to reach it Sunday in what felt like a must-win for Boston.
Maybe Price didn’t hang around for very long, but his 14-out stay didn’t lack for excitement. His only clean inning was the fourth. Otherwise, the Astros had plenty of traffic. They just couldn’t crack Price’s bend-but-don’t-break mindset.
In the first inning, Price issued consecutive one-out walks that followed his usual script. But he rewrote the plot we’ve come to expect by freezing Yuli Gurriel with a fastball that split the plate and whiffing Tyler White on three pitches. The Fenway crowd roared. Was it possible this would be a different Price?
The last time he climbed the mound here, Aaron Judge took him onto Lansdowne Street and Gary Sanchez planted one midway up the Monster seats. Price recorded five outs, and when the night was over, he remained winless in 10 playoff starts (0-9). If that wasn’t the bottom for Price, he certainly could see it from where he was standing.
“I expect myself to be great in big moments, and I haven’t done that thus far in my career,” he said. “But I came here to win, period. I came here to win a World Series and do it multiple times. And that’s what I’m about.”
Price wasn’t blown out of this one, but he did have his share of some brutal luck. In the second inning, shortstop Xander Bogaerts took his sweet time fielding a routine grounder by Carlos Correa, turning it into an infield single. Later, with two outs and two on, Price threw a 1-and-0 fastball in on George Springer’s hands, and he managed to fist a weak liner that dropped about 50 feet behind first base and was fair by roughly a foot for a tying two-run double. (“That stung,” Price said.)
Price recovered to strike out Jose Altuve, though, and the Gonzalez missile over the Monster wound up doing only temporary damage. By any measure, Price didn’t meet the minimum requirements for good. But the Fenway fans were in the mood to be easy graders.
“It’s definitely appreciated,” Price said. “It wasn’t the line I dreamed up to have tonight.”
At least it wasn’t another nightmare.