After an odd period of limbo between the news breaking and it becoming official, David Price and Mookie Betts are no longer members of the Boston Red Sox. Such a deal has been talked about for months, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. Mookie Betts is clearly the centerpiece and headliner of this deal, as he should be. To suggest otherwise would be downright laughable. But due to the media frenzy that has surrounded Betts’ departure from Boston, many will forget that Boston also parted ways with one of their better starting pitchers, in a rotation whose depth is already questionable. This deal pushes Martin Perez into the fourth starter role, and that’s banking on the health of Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi, neither of which are a given. That means that there’s actually a starter (or a myriad of AAAA bullpen swingmen who will be thrusted into a role somewhere in the gray area between starter and opener) who is worse than Perez and his lifetime 5.12 ERA. The impact of losing Mookie Betts cannot be overstated, but the impact of losing David Price should not be overlooked.
The story of David Price in Boston really begins in 2014. Fresh off of a 2013 World Series championship, the Red Sox found themselves dead last in their division, at a measly 48-60 record. With the season lost and homegrown ace Jon Lester set to hit free agency at the end of the season, the Red Sox traded Lester, packaged with Jonny Gomes to the first place Athletics in exchange for the reigning back-to-back home run derby champion, Yoenis Cespedes. Red Sox ownership calmed the fan base by assuring them that they intended to reunite with Lester in the coming offseason. This was for nothing more than PR reasons. The Red Sox did not intend to make Lester a serious offer, instead lowballing him just to save face with the fans (Lowballing a homegrown star to try to appease the fans but ultimately trading him… sounds familiar). Ownership justified not matching the offer Lester received from the Cubs, where he would ultimately sign, by saying they were not going to overpay for left handed pitching on the wrong side of 30. In a vacuum, this statement is completely understandable. Pitchers are volatile, even more so once age becomes a factor.
The team waited no time in contradicting this statement, as they signed over 30 left handed pitcher David Price to a big money deal. This was a real slap in the face to a fan base who had just said goodbye to their home grown ace. While sentimentality might have had fans against this deal, it was pretty exciting from a baseball perspective. Price was coming off of a stellar 2015 campaign in which he finished as the runner up to Houston’s Dallas Keuchel for the AL Cy Young award. If there was one knock on Price coming into Boston, it was his postseason struggles. He had never earned a postseason win as a starter. Excluding his 2008 postseason, in which he worked exclusively out of the bullpen as a rookie for the Pennant bound Rays, Price owned a 5.46 career postseason ERA in 9 appearances over 57.2 innings. It was clear that Price struggled in the postseason, so of course he was asked about this in his introductory press conference. Price told reporters, “I think I was just saving all my postseason wins for the Red Sox.” This quote would eventually become true, but it took a long journey to get there.
Through Price’s first seven starts in Boston, Price struggled to the tune of a 6.75 ERA. With the Boston media being what it is, they immediately pounced on the struggling $200 million pitcher. This attack tagged Price as a bad pitcher who was overpaid and whom the Red Sox were better off without. This tag, despite Price proving time and time again that it wasn’t true, would linger for the entirety of his Red Sox career. Despite his rough start, Price still had a really good 2016 regular season. He led the league in innings (230) with a respectable ERA+ of 112. Price continued to be excellent in 2017 and 2018, despite missing significant time (just 250 innings combined over the two seasons), posting a 127 ERA+ over this span.
David Price’s true legacy came after the 2018 season. It was during that postseason when Price earned the title “hero” in Boston. The Red Sox entered the postseason as the league’s top seed after winning a franchise record 108 games. This meant the team hosted the rival Yankees, who won the wild card game, in the Division Series. Price got the nod in game 2, hoping to give his team a commanding 2-0 lead in the series before heading back to New York. Instead, the Yankees jumped on him, scoring 3 runs in just 1.2 innings, handing Price the loss. Price had looked like his typical self against the Yankees and in the postseason, and already stories started popping up again about how the Red Sox’ big money pitcher can’t pitch in big games. Thankfully for Price, the Red Sox won the next two games to advance to the Championship Series against the Astros. Once again, Price was given the start in game 2 of the series. However, this time Price was looking to even the series at a game a piece, as the Red Sox had dropped game 1. Price delivered. While his statline certainly seems underwhelming – 4 runs allowed over 4.2 innings – it does not tell the whole story. Price looked like his typical dominant regular season self that the league had grown to know. Of the four runs, two came on a George Springer double that was simply a bloop over the first baseman’s head. It was simply bad luck, not bad pitching. The other two runs came on a monster home run off the bat of Marwin Gonzalez. This was admittedly the result of bad pitching. But, one bad pitch out of 80 isn’t bad. While this was far from the prettiest start of his career, Price did something he had rarely, if ever, done in the Postseason: He put his team in a position to win the ballgame. And, for the first time ever, David Price’s team managed to win a postseason game in which he started. This alone isn’t all that noteworthy, but Price was building momentum in October. Price again was handed the ball to start game 5 of the series. This time, a win meant punching the team’s ticket to the Fall Classic. There are few bigger stages in all of sports. Price stepped up. He threw 6 scoreless innings, allowing just 3 hits, against one of the most potent offenses in history. Price earned his first career victory in the postseason as a starter. He struck out 9 batters. His changeup that night was simply unhittable. The Red Sox were going to the World Series, and David Price had gotten them there.
For the third straight time, Price got the start in game 2. Once again, he delivered. Again, Price went 6 innings, this time allowing 2 runs, en route to earning his second straight win. Price’s number was called again in the very next game, this time asked to come out of the bullpen in the 9th inning to preserve the 1-1 tie. Price did so, as he recorded two outs to send the game into extra innings. The ultimate test for Price came as a surprise. Generally in a seven game series, game 5 will be started by the game 1 starter, Chris Sale. However, Sale had struggled with a variety of injuries in the final months of the season, and manager Alex Cora ultimately felt that Sale would be more effective if he were saved for a potential game 6 back in Boston. At the end of the press conference that followed game 4, Cora quickly blurted out that David Price would be starting tomorrow. The room went into a frenzy over this news. Was Chris Sale’s injury more than the team was letting on? Would Price be ready to go on short rest? Could Price even perform in the biggest stage: the potential clinching game of the World Series? The answer: Yes. Price was ready. Price stepped up again. This time delivering 7 innings of 1 run baseball en route to his third win of that postseason, and his team’s fourth World Series championship in this century.
Let’s remember Price for what he was in Boston: a hero. Price should be a postseason legend in Boston. As great as Steve Pearce’s World Series was, Price should have won that MVP award. His performance was unbelievable, especially when factoring in his past postseason demons. Price was a phenomenal pitcher in Boston who delivered when it mattered most. He is a legend. He is a hero. Let’s remember him as such. Thank you, David.
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