Red Sox

Red Sox

BOSTON -- It wouldn't be right to call David Price's final pitch of Tuesday's loss to the Indians vintage. Price in his prime may very well have overpowered Carlos Santana with 97 mph heat.

But Price's 92 mph inside fastball that froze the Indians slugger to end the sixth demonstrated just how exquisite this recent vintage has become. And it reinforced the notion of how essential he'll be to any attempt to repeat as World Series champions.

Now in his fourth season with the Red Sox, Price has packed a lot into his tenure. He has produced seasons of 16 and 17 wins, battled the media, exorcised his postseason demons, belittled a beloved Hall of Famer, and established himself as indispensable.

My guess is that neither Price nor Boston will look back on the other with particular fondness, exactly, but there's no denying what Price meant to the Red Sox last October, or the role he is filling now. Chris Sale's highs may be undeniably higher, but he lacks the consistency that has become Price's hallmark atop the Red Sox rotation.

Making his first appearance since leaving Saturday's loss to the Astros after just 15 pitches, Price wasn't overpowering, but he was certainly effective in a game the bullpen barfed away. He limited the Indians to three hits over six shutout innings, striking out six and calming some jangly nerves that had accompanied not only the flu-like symptoms that limited him on Saturday, but the sore elbow that landed him on the injured list earlier this month.

 

The conditions weren't exactly conducive to a quality start, especially for someone battling illness. With temperatures barely topping 50, a drizzle falling all night amidst gusty winds, and a 69-minute rain delay halting the action after Price completed the second, the recipe was there for another short start, but Price persevered.

Perseverance is a good word to associate with the left-hander, who has not let the inevitable decline of his fastball define him. Price started planning early in his career for the day he could no longer simply rear back and overwhelm, and the foresight paid off. On Tuesday, he effectively mixed his four-seamer, two-seamer, changeup, and cutter to both sides of the plate, keeping the Indians off balance. He may have only produced six swings and misses while averaging a shade under 92 mph on his fastball, but he hit his spots and stayed out of the middle of the plate.

"I felt like I pleased myself with how I did well and went out and threw well," Price said. "Commanded the ball on both sides of the plate well. Just really made pitches in big spots. That was key."

The Red Sox made Price baseball's highest-paid pitcher when they signed him to a seven-year, $217 million deal in 2015. He has simultaneously surpassed and fallen short of expectations, if that's possible. He owns a 3.66 ERA that ranks 18th among starters with at least 500 innings pitched since 2016 and has yet to make an All-Star team here. But his postseason efforts last fall were massive, from beating the Astros in the ALCS clincher to silencing the Dodgers in Games 2 and 5 of the World Series.

He has carried that confidence into 2019, and is 2-2 with a 2.89 ERA in nine starts. We probably won't breathe easy about his elbow until the second half, but look at it this way: between Price and Sale, which pitcher inspires more confidence that he might be healthy and impactful come October?

There's really only one answer to that question, and on Tuesday, Price gave us another little glimpse into why.

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