$217M Man David Price Fails to Erase Reputation as MLB Postseason Choke Artist

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 7, 2018

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 06:  Pitcher David Price #24 of the Boston Red Sox takes his hat off as he walks back to the dugout after being pulled from the game in the second inning of Game Two of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees  at Fenway Park on October 6, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.s.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The more outs he racked up in Game 2 of the American League Division Series, the more Boston Red Sox left-hander David Price could have chipped away at his reputation as a postseason goat.

Instead, the $217 million ace got only the first five outs of Boston's 6-2 loss to the New York Yankees.

As in, Price was finished after just an inning and two-thirds Saturday. He was done in by a pair of booming home runs by Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. There was also an RBI double by Andrew McCutchen that was plenty booming in its own right.

The latter pushed New York's lead to 3-0 with two outs in the second inning. Without further ado, Boston manager Alex Cora pointed Price in the direction of the showers. The boo birds came out in force at Fenway Park as he made his way off the field.

For a time, it didn't seem like Price's poor start had necessarily doomed the Red Sox to a defeat. Their bullpen put up zeroes through the sixth, and a fourth-inning homer by Xander Bogaerts made the score 3-1.

Nonetheless, Boston's doom arrived in the seventh. Eduardo Rodriguez put a couple runners on, and Sanchez brought them and himself home with a 479-foot moonshot over the Green Monster.

After that, the Yankees had little trouble in turning the Red Sox's 1-0 series lead into a 1-1 tie. They can punch their ticket to a second straight American League Championship Series with wins in Games 3 (Monday) and 4 (Tuesday) at Yankee Stadium.

There's plenty of credit to dole out on the New York side of things. The lion's share goes to Sanchez, who enjoyed the biggest game of his career. A good chunk is also reserved for Masahiro Tanaka, who allowed one run in five innings before turning things over to the excellent Yankees bullpen.

As for Boston, most of the blame rests on Price.

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 6: David Price #24 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after allowing a solo home run to Gary Sanchez #24 of the New York Yankees during the second inning of game two of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees on Oct
Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

It doesn't take a powerful microscope to see why the Red Sox were willing to give Price a seven-year, $217 million contract following the 2015 season.

He was a well-established ace who had just won his second American League ERA title. They were a team with a rotation that had ranked 24th in ERA in the previous season. Square peg, meet square hole.

Still, Price came with questions regarding his ability to show up when the Red Sox were most in need of an ace. The former Tampa Bay Ray, Detroit Tiger and Toronto Blue Jay arrived in Boston with a 5.12 career postseason ERA. He also had a not-great 4.04 ERA in 30 career starts against the Yankees.

The first two-and-a-half years of Price's tenure in Boston did not go well. He was up and down in 2016, and he spent most of 2017 injured and feuding with the local media. His health and mood improved in the first half of 2018, but his performance went back to wavering. His lowest valley was on July 1, when the Yankees torched him for five homers and eight runs at Yankee Stadium.

In the second half of 2018, however, Price finally started pitching like the ace the Red Sox thought they had signed back in 2015.

In 11 starts, he pitched to a 2.25 ERA with 68 strikeouts and only 16 walks in 68 innings. This happened despite an ongoing decline in his fastball velocity, which speaks to how he adjusted his approach.

"He's been unbelievable," catcher Sandy Leon told Alex Speier of the Boston Globe in September. "You've got a lot of options. You know he's going to execute a pitch 90 percent of the time. He's been doing an amazing job."

In the wake of this stretch, it was possible to imagine Price putting the Yankees in their place in Game 2. Had he done so, he would have dealt a huge blow to the notion that he's no good in big games.

After what actually happened, Price's big-game credentials look worse than ever. His career postseason ERA is up to 5.28. Per MLB.com's Bryan Hoch, even that figure looks good relative to his numbers against the Yankees during his time in Boston:

Granted, what these Yankees have done against Price isn't that surprising.

Theirs is a right-heavy, slugger-laden lineup that destroyed (.832 OPS) lefty starters in the regular season. Their hitters also know the strike zone well. That presents a challenge for Price, who no longer has the stuff to survive when hitters force him from the edges of the strike zone into the fat part of it.

Such was Price's downfall in Game 2. He did his best to stick to the edges of the zone, but too many of his misses were out over the plate. That's where Judge and McCutchen did their damage.

Price will have a chance at redemption if the ALDS extends to a Game 5. And as bad as the idea may sound, the Red Sox wouldn't have much choice but to give it to him. The only viable alternative would be a bullpen day. Considering the battered and bruised state of the Red Sox bullpen, that's barely practical.

As such, the best thing the Red Sox can do is win the next two games at Yankee Stadium and hope that the Price riddle is solved in the next round.

                      

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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