The Red Sox had a lot of things go right for them on Sunday and they had a number of players step up and give them the big win to keep the series alive. Hanley Ramirez was on fire at the plate, picking up four hits including a huge hit in the seventh to help start the big rally that broke the game open. Rafael Devers hit the massive home run in the third to give the Red Sox the lead in the first place. Joe Kelly was the first out of the bullpen, and though he got some major help from his defense he kept the Astros off the scoreboard and bridged the game into the fourth. Mookie Betts provided said defense and saved some huge runs early in the game to remind us just how valuable he is even if he’s not hitting as much as we may like. Despite the lopsided final score, this was a close, tense game for the vast majority of it and one player stood out for the Red Sox above the rest en route to the victory.
That, obviously based on the headline and the picture, was David Price. A few weeks before the playoffs started, I wrote a column stating that Price would not be Andrew Miller, and that was okay. The thing that is not okay is that column, because with this outing alone the lefty proved he can indeed play that kind of role and be that dominant. Price tossed four crucial, scoreless innings against the best lineup in baseball with four strikeouts and just one walk. It was among the most impressive outings from a Red Sox pitcher in recent memory — particularly when adjusted for context that we’ll get to later. If the Red Sox can turn this game into a spark that leads to a long run through October, it will become all the more legendary.
So, let’s talk about that context, shall we? First, think about the lineup he was facing. This is a group of hitters that formed easily the best offense in baseball and one of the best we’ve seen over the last decade. They were the only group in at least the last 50 years to lead the league in both Isolated Power and strikeout rate. They have hitters all through their lineup that can do damage with any swing. To make matters even worse, they were on fire and seemingly firing on all cylinders through the first 21 innings of the series. To shut down that group over four innings in a high-pressure situation is incredible.
Second, let’s get to that pressure. This was an elimination game, at home, with a crowd full of (justifiably) anxious and upset fans. When Price first started warming up, the team was down 3-1 and ready to explode in boos if things kept going poorly. It’s true that his lineup gave him a lead to work with before he entered the game, but he still would have heard it just as bad if he coughed it right back up. The tension in Fenway must have been incredible and hard to deal with for a pitcher. (I wasn’t there, but I’m comfortable making this assumption from afar.) Major-league pitchers should be able to put that aside, but it’s much easier said than done.
Third, and on a related note, Price had some fairly high-profile postseason struggles before this year. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? That’s a monkey that’s been on his back for years, and something that everyone was curious about heading into this October. Again, this probably isn’t something pitchers should be thinking of in the heat of the moment, but you know it’s something that at least crosses his mind and the relief he felt walking off the mound must have felt incredible.
The context made everything incredibly impressive on another level, but even if you strip all of that it was a great pitching performance at its simplest form. That is, it was simply a pitcher going out there with dominant stuff and throwing the ball exactly as he wanted. Price was, as always, leaning heavily on his fastball and cutter. It’s something that only a pitcher with the best command can get away with, particularly against a lineup as powerful as the Astros’. Price was on his game, so it didn’t matter. he was pumped 95-96 mph fastballs all day, even as he got into his fourth inning and throwing more pitches than he had since July. Then, when he needed to, Price mixed in a few nasty changeups to keep Houston off-balance. This wasn’t just a great start we could look back on because of the context. You could simply stumble upon footage of this four-inning stretch and simply look at it as a pitcher who did his job at an extremely high level.
This was the type of outing that will draw comparisons to Pedro Martinez’ bullpen performance in Game Five of the 1999 ALDS. Those comparisons, of course, are the result of extreme recency bias. As electric as Price was, he wasn’t up that impossibly high standard. That’s neither here nor there, though. The lefty was amazing on Sunday afternoon and slowed down the Astros lineup for the first time in this series. He saved the Red Sox season, he may have saved John Farrell’s job, and he delivered Boston’s first playoff win since 2013. Pretty good for a guy everyone hated for essentially the entire season.