BOSTON — David Price has redemption, or at least his first taste of it, after what he agreed was his best performance in a Red Sox uniform.
Price’s four shutout innings in relief in Game 3 of the American League Division Series preserved a one-run lead that eventually morphed into a 10-3 win over the Astros, a performance that put Price in the same conversation with Pedro Martinez. Pedro was the last Sox reliever to toss at least that many innings out of the bullpen without allowing a run, back in his famous Game 5 performance in the 1999 DS.
As Price continues to dominate, the decision not to try to build him up as a reliever once he came off the disabled list in the regular season looks worse and worse.
"In the world of all hands on deck, today showed why you have that, and he exceeded expectations just being able to bounce back as a former starter," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "If there was any doubt on what players are willing to do or what they can do, today shows you that, what playoff baseball will bring out of you and him. His power attack is the same. These guys pitch us very similarly no matter who is pitching with trying to back us up off the plate. He did a good job of making our guys somewhat uncomfortable with the fastball in. He's got the back-door cutter, the changeup. There's weapons in there for him to attack. So it's what we expected. I think his resiliency and his — he sort of reached back and had a little bit extra on his pitches today that was pretty impressive. We weren't surprised by him."
Now, Price didn’t exactly write a love letter to Red Sox fans in his postgame press conference. It doesn’t seem Price has exactly lost the chip on his shoulder, or his concern for outside perception. And maybe both are essential elements to his performance.
Either way, Price seems to to grasp the bottom line: pitch well, and the rest falls into place. Sunday was an example of how that momentum builds.
“If I throw well out of the bullpen that doesn't mean anything, I got to do this as a starter. I know that, y'all know that, y'all write it and it will be talked about,” Price said Sunday. “I mean, I want to help this team win right now. That's if it's coming out of the pen, I'm going to do it. If it's playing center field, I'll do it. It doesn't matter to me. I want to win. That's why I came here, we just need to keep it going, whatever the team asks me to do, that's what I'm going to do. They know I want to start, they know I want the ball.”
But Price is wrong that pitching out of the bullpen doesn’t mean anything. What he’s done — in addition to helping the Red Sox tremendously — is show people in Boston that he can be a weapon in the postseason.
Not everyone doubted it. But those who would still suggest he cannot pitch like this as starting pitcher in October have no logical leg to stand on. Price put it best himself.
"I can do this as a starter, too, I just haven't done it yet. Period,” Price said. “Pitching suits me well, and that's what I did. It has nothing to do with relieving or starting, I just threw the ball well today.”
Now, the Red Sox desperately — desperately — need his rotation-mates to do the same. We say rotation-mate purposely, because what Price did Sunday was the equivalent of a start, and better than any actual start the Sox have had this October.
The Sox can’t turn to Price for much on Monday, if anything. They’d be able to get more out of him Tuesday, if Game 4 is washed out and pushed back a day.
The bullpen needs help from the rotation either way.
The fact Price even had a chance to keep Sunday’s score at 4-3 for four innings was in itself a minor miracle, one courtesy of Mookie Betts. The right fielder’s robbery of Josh Reddick’s three-run home run in the second inning kept a 3-0 game from becoming 6-0.
When you look beyond Price, and how the Red Sox move forward, the formula from Sunday is unsustainable. The 11.70 ERA Sox starters have through their last six division series games — three this year, and three last year — is phenomenally bad, and probably due to level off.
It has to start with Rick Porcello and continue with Chris Sale, the next two Sox starters lined up.
Both Porcello and Sale have their own, albeit very different, redemption stories that can play out here. Porcello had a tough 2017 and a poor postseason outing last year. Sale’s Game 1 was highly disappointing. (He's been, uh, pretty darn good otherwise.)
Price is doing his part, as fans and media clamored for and doubted. Now, the Sox need more of their strength, pitching, to show up from the get-go for Price to have a chance to make an even greater impact in these playoffs.