Red Sox

From malcontent to masterful: How David Price became indispensable to the Red Sox

From malcontent to masterful: How David Price became indispensable to the Red Sox

Somebody should rummage through the discarded laundry of the 2014 Red Sox and find a t-shirt that's only to be worn on the days David Price pitches.

"He's the Ace."

Three years after signing a record $217 million contract and two years after watching it nearly all burn, Price has claimed his place atop the Red Sox rotation in a comeback that might not reach Tiger Woods levels, but certainly deserves its own extended golf clap.

A one-time candidate for highest-paid malcontent in sports, Price has emerged from his darkest days in Boston to stabilize the defending World Series champions.

On Sunday, he gave the team exactly what it needed following Saturday's listless loss to the Orioles, tossing seven shutout innings and making one measly run stand in a 4-0 victory.

It was easily his best start of a season that had seen him pitch better than the 0-2 record and 6.00 ERA he carried into the game. Months after exorcizing his postseason demons and declaring that he held all the cards, Price found himself dealing again, and not a moment too soon.

"If you take a look at his starts, his stuff has been there, three pitches in Oakland, then that inning in Arizona, but stuff-wise he's way ahead of where he was last year at this point," said manager Alex Cora. "Everybody knew where we were pitching-wise today, and for him to go seven and give the ball to those last two guys, it was very important to us."

With ace Chris Sale and former Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello struggling alongside postseason hero Nathan Eovaldi, the Red Sox rotation had found itself mirroring the disastrous 2014 group that claimed it had five aces when in fact it had none. These Red Sox were adrift and in need of an anchor.

Enter Price.

"Every time he takes the ball, he expects to go deep into a game and shut the other team down," said teammate Dustin Pedroia, who was in the opposing dugout during Price's coming-out party during the 2008 American League Championship Series. "That's his mentality. Today was a perfect example. I've seen it a lot of times. We've had it happen to us a lot. He was great today."

Price limited the Orioles to three hits and no walks, striking out seven. His fastball reached 94 mph and he induced 18 swings and misses with six different pitches.

Price has endured some serious slings and arrows since arriving in Boston, often of his own making. But he was the team's best pitcher down the stretch last season, going 6-1 with a 2.25 ERA after injuries shelved Sale, and then he should've won the World Series MVP Award after a narrative-shattering postseason that included a victory in the clincher.

He entered this season as the presumed No. 2 starter behind Sale, but three uncharacteristic starts from Price's fellow left-hander has left the top spot in the rotation up for grabs, and Price has snatched it.

"You look at the real numbers pitching-wise, I don't know, his WHIP is below 1.00, so that's a good sign," Cora said. "The ERA right now, obviously, that will go up and down, it's not too many innings but the numbers don't really matter, there's not too much traffic with him."

After the game, Price was asked about Tiger winning the Masters. From one redemption story to another, he offered his congratulations.

"We messed up by not wearing red today," Price said. "I'm happy he pulled that off. That's awesome. For him to endure everything he's been through and get on top and win another Masters, we're all pumped for him."

Price can relate. The Boston experience hasn't always been smooth, but at this moment, Price is exactly where he belongs. Somebody order the t-shirts.

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Mookie Betts blasts desperately needed homer, but what really mattered was his reaction

Mookie Betts blasts desperately needed homer, but what really mattered was his reaction

The swing looked vintage. The fist pump around the bases felt like a dam bursting.

But for my money, the most encouraging aspect of Mookie Betts' go-ahead homer to center on Friday night was his ear-to-ear grin in the dugout.

Sounds corny, but we haven't seen much in the way of happiness from Betts this season. Mired in a slump that dates to the 2018 postseason, the defending MVP has spent April trying to find his way, with limited success.

On Friday night, however, he showed signs of life. Not coincidentally, so did the Red Sox, taking an embarrassingly important 6-4 victory from the division-leading Rays in the opener of a three-game series at Tropicana Field.

After grounding into a double play as the second batter of the game and seeing his average fall to .197, Betts found his groove. He doubled to left leading off the sixth and scored on a J.D. Martinez single. Then he unloaded on a 97-mph, dead-red fastball in the eighth of off Diego Castillo to break a 4-4 tie, slamming it 424 feet to center.

Betts pumped his fist once around second, once as he neared third, and once again as he turned towards home plate. He may not have exhibited the exuberance of, say, his joyous race around the bases after his marathon at-bat grand slam against J.A. Happ last year, but he at least looked more like himself in the dugout.

He ran the high-five gauntlet before breaking into a broad smile, which he repeated moments later at the bat rack.

That's the Betts the Red Sox want to see. That's the Betts the Red Sox need to see. The season hasn't started the way anyone wants, but it's not like it's over.

"When you look around in big league stadiums and there's a lot of -- look everywhere, there's the average," manager Alex Cora told reporters in Florida, including Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald. "Back in the day, you didn't have that. You only learned because of the newspaper. Now it's all over the place. Although you don't want to look, it's there for you. It's not cool when you're struggling.

"It's hard to smile when you're struggling. But he prepares, gives 100 percent regardless of the results. Sometimes, yeah, he gets down, because he knows what he can do. But just like the team, it's a long season. Still got plenty of games. Good to see him doing that."

Betts takes his struggles very seriously, which is why he termed his play unacceptable last week. The concept of a short memory doesn't always apply. He wears it when things aren't going well, and he'll work himself to exhaustion trying to make it right.

He needed to feel rewarded.

"He keeps working," Cora told reporters. "He was hitting .380 or .400 last year and kept working the same way. He tries to be the best out there. He showed up today and worked his swing and didn't start the right way, but the double, then he crushed that pitch. It's good to see him contribute."

Cora has insisted for the last week that a hitter as talented as Betts can turn things around with just one swing. Who knows? 
Maybe this was the one.

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Highlights from the Red Sox' 6-4 win over the Rays

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USA TODAY Sports photo

Highlights from the Red Sox' 6-4 win over the Rays

FINAL SCORE: Red Sox 6, Rays 4

IN BRIEF: Back-to-back home runs from Mookie Betts and Mitch Moreland in the eighth inning propelled the Red Sox over the Rays on Friday night.  BOX SCORE

RED SOX RECORD: 7-13

HIGHLIGHTS:

2nd inning
Brandon Lowe solo home run (TB 1-0)

3rd inning
Avisail Garcia RBI triple (TB 2-0)

5th inning
Rafael Devers RBI double (TB 2-1)

Christian Vazquez two-run home run (BOS 3-2)

6th inning
J.D. Martinez RBI single (BOS 4-2)

Daniel Robertson two-run double (4-4)

8th inning
Mookie Betts solo home run (BOS 5-4)

Mitch Moreland solo home run (BOS 6-4)

UP NEXT:
At Rays, Saturday, 6:10 p.m., NESN
At Rays, Sunday, 2:05 p.m., NESN
vs Tigers, Monday, 7:10 p.m., NESN

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