Thursday was Alex Cora’s birthday, and he celebrated in style. The Red Sox gave him not one, but two wins to celebrate his 43rd year on this planet, and then they sprayed champagne all over the place to top it all off. He had a pretty good day, is what I’m trying to say.
Thursday was a day of redemption for Jackie Bradley Jr., whose inconsistency finally broke a pretty sizable portion of Red Sox fans this year. He’s always caught the ire of fans throughout his career, and for as great as his defense is the lack of offense at times can be grinding. He ended his Thursday (technically it was Friday morning, I guess) by being awarded the ALCS MVP and catching praise from not only fans but every one of his teammates. Pretty solid day.
Prior to the postseason, there was some chatter that Dave Dombrowski could potentially be on the hot seat if the Red Sox were eliminated in the ALDS again. I’m not sure how realistic that was, but given the two early exits prior to this year and the talk around his bullpen, it wouldn’t have been a total shock. Dombrowski’s teams always have a reputation for falling short, so it had to be a nice feeling to see the roster he built finally break through and win a pennant. Dombrowski went to bed feeling very good about himself last night.
What I’m trying to say is a lot of guys had good Thursdays for the Red Sox. Nobody’s day came close to David Price. This day, insofar as it belonged to one person rather than the entire team, belonged to David Price. Nobody experienced the kind of redemption and the kind of adoration that Price was on the receiving end of on this day. It was a special night in Houston, and one we won’t forget for a long, long time.
Given the circumstances around the lefty’s start on Thursday, you can be forgiven if you were expecting in this game. Even if you want to throw away his previous track record in the playoffs, there was plenty to doubt. He was going up against an all-time great in these kinds of moments, and matching up against someone like Justin Verlander on this stage can only add to the pressure you’re already feeling. Price was also pitching on three days rest, the first time he’s ever done that in his career following a start. He was on the road in a hitter-friendly park against the best offense in baseball against left-handed pitching. Oh, and as J.D. Martinez put it in the postgame celebration, he just about threw a full damn game in the bullpen during Wednesday’s win! Nothing was pointing to an impending win.
You also can’t just ignore Price’s postseason track record. You don’t have to believe that he was automatically worse on this stage to believe his poor history wasn’t a capital-T Thing. Price is a human being, and it’s impossible for him to not have heard all of the talk about him before this start regarding his track record. That would be true of anyone, but Price in particular has always seemed to have trouble blocking out the media when things are going poorly. As Grant Brisbee put it, he didn’t just get the monkey off his back, he took it off and snapped it over his knee.
The performance he put forth was special. Despite the lack of rest and the wear and tear on his arm, Price had everything working. His fastball was sitting in the mid-90s and was getting up to 96 in vintage Price style. His cutter was straight-up filthy and he was hitting all of the edges with the pitch. Most importantly, his changeup was at its very best, sitting around 8-10 mph below the fastball and dropping right out of the strike zone. Hitters were having an impossible time laying off it, which is the biggest reason he ended up with those six shutout innings on nine strikeouts and no walks.
The obvious comparison to make is to John Lackey in 2013, and it’s pretty much a perfect match. Like Price, Lackey was the antithesis of a fan favorite heading into that season, but had come back with a solid year. He was still waiting for his signature moment to win over fans, and he did just that in this game. In Game 3 of the ALCS that year, he tossed 6 2⁄3 scoreless innings against a terrifying Tigers team. In fact, he also went up against Verlander in that outing. It was the night fans got on Lackey’s side for the first time in his Red Sox tenure. It sure seems like the same has happened for Price.
Really, it’s just impossible not to be thrilled for the Red Sox lefty right now. He has taken more shit from fans and media — some deserved, but a lot of it way over the top — over the last couple of years to an extent that I’m not sure any one else ever experienced. Not even Carl Crawford. By all accounts, he’s always been a great teammate and guys love playing with him, but that’s never come through with his experience with the media. Fans turned on him almost immediately, and the focus has largely been on when he’ll wear another uniform. Well, tonight everyone is glad he was wearing the Red Sox grays. For the rest of time, October 18, 2018 will be David Price’s day, birthdays and MVPs be damned.