Sonny Gray owes David Price a beer. Or maybe a nice thank-you note. Just one former Vanderbilt teammate having the other’s back.
Because until Price threw batting practice to the Yankees, who clubbed him for five of their six homers in Sunday night’s 11-1 smackdown, Gray had been getting grilled like a bratwurst on all New York media fronts as the root cause of everything that might possibly be wrong with the Yankees (it’s a two-man list: him and Chasen Shreve).
Gray can’t pitch wearing pinstripes (8.25 ERA at home this season). Gray can’t beat the Red Sox (9.35 ERA as a Yankee).
And while both are valid claims, based on those incriminating numbers, Boston’s 11-0 rout Saturday fanned those fears anew, making us wonder if Brian Cashman felt any increased urgency to bolster the rotation after seeing Gray removed after seven outs that night.
No, insists the general manager.
“I was pursuing a starter regardless,” Cashman said before Sunday’s game. “I’ve been pursuing a starter since last winter, since last summer. We’re always in pursuit of starting pitching, so this doesn’t affect it.”
Cashman had every right to be annoyed with Gray. He sacrificed three top 12 prospects to pry him from the A’s last July and Gray hasn’t pitched anywhere near the level of a front-line starter since his arrival in the Bronx.
But seeing Price’s meltdown Sunday night must have lessened that irritation with Gray to some degree. It showed that the Red Sox — despite their supposed rotation edge — employ their very own Gray, at least on those occasions when Price is forced to face their AL East rival.
Trust us when we say that Price is being crushed in Boston much worse than Gray is being swatted around in these parts. Much of that has to do with him not living up to his seven-year, $217-million contract, coupled with his occasionally combative relationship with the prickly Hub media crew.
Price didn’t do himself any favors by turning Sunday night’s ESPN showcase into a Home Run Derby for the Yankees, furthering the perception that he can’t handle the big stage. It didn’t help when he had to be scratched from the Bronx series in May with carpal tunnel syndrome — possibly brought on by his obsession with the “Fortnite” video game — and returned to go 7-1 with a 2.72 ERA in the next nine starts.
So what was waiting at the end of that dominant streak? The Yankees, on a sweltering 91-degree night at the Stadium, and they enjoyed continuing the narrative.
Aaron Judge got the party started with a 409-foot blast to dead center in the first inning. After two more hits, Gleyber Torres made it 4-0 by slicing a high drive about 20 rows deep in the rightfield bleachers.
By then, Price’s troubles against the Yankees had become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Aaron Hicks took him deep twice, and even third-string catcher Kyle Higashioka, who was 0-for-22 while waiting for his first MLB hit, launched a 401-foot shot into the second deck in leftfield in the fourth inning.
Higashioka’s landmark hit had to especially sting. It wasn’t Derek Jeter’s 3,000th — also served up by Price — but that blast signaled the end was near. Still, it wasn’t until two batters later, when Hicks hammered homer No. 2 (of his three on the night) that Sox manager Alex Cora finally decided that Price had absorbed enough punishment.
Only one other Red Sox pitcher had previously surrendered five homers to the Yankees on the road — Dennis Eckersley, 39 years to the day before Price’s pyrotechnics.
“It seemed like as a team, [the Yankees] did a good job splitting the plate, of basically not trying to pull him,” Cora said. “That was a good game plan. And he wasn’t as precise.”
And the Yankees’ ownership of the Sox’s highest-paid pitcher continued. In nine starts for Boston, Price is 2-6 with an 8.43 ERA against the Yankees, and he’s winless in his last five starts at the Stadium (0-5, 10.44 ERA). Price also is the only pitcher in MLB history to have three career starts against the Yankees in which he allowed at least eight runs in less than four innings.
Given the Yankees’ overpowering success, Price said he’d check the video to see if he was tipping his pitches or showing any other tells. Otherwise, what’s done is done.
“Turn the page,” he said. “I’m looking forward to Kansas City.”