Did David Price actually make October fun again?
No, not for us. Everyone already liked this month just fine. Changing leaves, candy corn, the World Series. What’s not to love?
For Price, however, October had been a recurring nightmare, as if Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers were on his heels, draped in pinstripes. But last Thursday, at Minute Maid Park, Price finally woke up, relieved it was over.
Price was handed the ball in Game 5, with the Red Sox poised to clinch a trip to the Fall Classic, opposed by Astros ace Justin Verlander. It seemed like a mismatch. Price was arguably the worst starting pitcher in these playoffs, Verlander the best — but what transpired changed everything for the Red Sox’s presumptive No. 2 starter.
It’s not a reach to say Price delivered a shocking performance, firing six scoreless innings and allowing only three hits in the Astros’ cozy backyard to catapult the Red Sox to their fourth World Series in 15 years. Just like that, Price went from the most lambasted player on Jersey Street to instantly beloved — or at least appreciated.
And don’t underestimate the power of that weight being lifted. For a few days, Price hasn’t been forced to explain his previous October misery, and in this reporter-saturated environment, that can be significant. We actually witnessed Price smile a few times during Tuesday’s news conference, which prompted us to ask if he’s feeling a bit lighter recently.
“I guess ‘lighter’ is a good word, yeah,” Price said. “Yesterday we had media day and I got to look forward to it for the first time in a long time. Today it’s definitely a weight lifted off of me for sure. Not like food tastes better or anything like that. But it was time. And I’m definitely glad that time came and we moved past it. And I look forward to doing the same thing tomorrow.”
Price had been winless in 11 previous playoff starts, with an 0-9 record and 6.16 ERA before striking out nine without a walk Thursday night against the defending world champions. That’s a long, frustrating history of postseason futility, and a sizable mental block to shrug off. Price did it by relying more on his changeup and now we’ll get to see if he can carry his newfound confidence into Game 2 of the World Series as well.
If Price is able to follow up with similar mastery of the Dodgers, it will be a fair indication that his playoff pratfalls maybe had just as much to do with his head as his arm. Listening to him speak Tuesday made us think that Price discovered something between his preparation for Game 5 and facing a few dozen media types.
“I always enjoy doing this,” Price said. “Just because I failed in October for about nine straight years, it didn’t take away my passion from baseball. This is something I fell in love with when I was two years old. So the ups and downs, I knew they were going to happen. I’ve definitely had many more downs than ups in October, but I’ve got a lot of baseball left.”
“Hopefully I have a whole lot of October baseball left. This is why I came to Boston . . . So I’m happy that we have made it to this point, and everybody in our clubhouse, we all want four more wins.”
If that happens, Price goes from New England pariah to one of Boston’s favorite sons, all in a little more than a week. That’s how quickly it can turn in October, and especially in an overheated sports Hub like this town, where you can be hated one pitch and adored the next.
If Price helps get the Red Sox to another World Series title, it won’t just be rewriting his personal narrative. It becomes a whole new story, and his $30-million salary goes from being an obscene overpay to a worthwhile investment.
“[His Game 2 start] is going to be a big one,” Alex Cora said. “His stuff was electric in Houston, and I’m looking forward to seeing him perform.”
So will everyone else at Fenway, where Sox fans had been accustomed to covering their eyes with Price on the mound in October. Price intends to have them use their hands to clap Wednesday night.