David Price is the stopper on this Red Sox staff. For the second consecutive weekend David Price has come on with his team having lost the first two games of a series and needing a big start to help shift momentum back in the direction they need. Last weekend he came through with a huge Sunday Night Baseball performance in the Bronx. This time it was at Fenway on local broadcast, but it was just as big. The Red Sox can’t afford to be losing all of these games to good teams — no one expects them to roll against good teams, but you have to at least tread water — and they couldn’t drop the first three in this series. The lack of offense was the story for the first two games, but they needed their starting pitcher to come through and give the offense time to get rolling. Price did just that with a dominant first half of his start and a gutty second half. The offense, meanwhile, did get going a bit for five runs and that was more than enough for the victory.
We all know how the first two games of this series had gone, with the Red Sox offense being shut down by the likes of Yonny Chirnos and Ryan Yarbrough. The Rays were going with an opener for the second half of Saturday’s doubleheader, so there was really no telling how the ice-cold Boston lineup would respond. Because of that, it felt important for Price to be nearly perfect in this game. To be fair, he has shown all year that he is up to that task, being the most consistent pitcher in the rotation and over the last month or so being particularly great. In fact, this is the second consecutive outings in which he has come into a situation with his team needing him to help halt a skid.
Going up against his former team in this one, he was indeed up to the task very early on. Price looked every bit like the modern day Good David Price looks. He was hitting his spots, mixing his cutter and his two-seam fastball, changing eye levels and sides of the plate and getting some extra room for the umpire. That last part is particularly important for Price, who relies so much on hitting the edges of the zone. If the ump is going to help out — and he gets that help more often than a lot of pitchers given both his stature in the game as well as his ability to hit gloves — who is going to say no that?
With all of that going in his favor, and him doing plenty of work on his own, Price cruised through the first four innings of the game. He faced only 13 batters in those four innings with the one baserunner he allowed coming on a soft line drive that fell into center field. Other than that, it was perfection through four for Price with seven strikeouts mixed in.
On the other end, the Red Sox offense was desperate for anything to change their fortunates and inject some life into this unit. It didn’t quite work out in the first when they managed just a two-out walk against Ryne Stanek, and then in the second they got back-to-back one-out walks but couldn’t do anything with them.
When the third rolled around, however, momentum did start to change. The top of the order started that inning off with back-to-back singles, though the next two batters then struck out. It appeared they were ready to squander another chance for the second straight inning, but Michael Chavis had other ideas. He was aggressive early in the count and put one off the Monster just over the glove of Guillermo Heredia, scoring both runners and giving Boston a 2-0 lead.
That same score would hold into the top of the fifth, when Price hit his first bit of trouble of the day. He issued his first walk of the game to start off that inning, then was called for a balk to put that leadoff runner on second base. A ground ball moved Willy Adames up to third before Kevin Kiermaier hit a ground ball to Chavis at first. The latter was playing in and immediately threw home after snagging the grounder, but his throw was to the wrong side of the plate. Still, it beat Adames by enough that Christian Vázquez was able to apply the tag. It was an extremely close play that was reviewed, but eventually upheld. The inning would continue, however, and Rafael Devers allowed it to be stressful when he tried to make a barehanded charging play but threw it away from Chavis. The third baseman’s error put Kiermaier on third, and the Rays outfielder would score on a double from Heredia. Price would eventually strand two more in scoring position, but the Rays had cut Boston’s lead in half.
The good news is the Red Sox didn’t waste much time getting that run back. Mookie Betts got the rally started in the bottom of the fifth when he ripped a double out to left-center field. After a ground out moved Betts up to third, Xander Bogaerts knocked him in on a sacrifice fly, and just like that the lead was back up to two.
However, when the sixth rolled around Price got into some more trouble. Yandy Díaz started this one off with a wall-ball single thanks to a really good defensive play by Andrew Benintendi, and Avisaíl García followed with a one-out infield single. After Price got the second out he issued a walk to Zunino, bring up Kiermaier with the bases full and two outs in a two-run game. Price dug deep in the big situation, getting to a full count before inducing a pop up into shallow center field to end the inning and leave the bases full.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Red Sox gave a little more breathing room to their pitching staff. Chavis started the inning off by drawing a walk, and then he moved to second on a perfectly-executed hit-and-run between him and Brock Holt. After Christian Vázquez dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners up and Jackie Bradley Jr. walked to load the bases, Marco Hernandez came up in a big spot. The second baseman, who doubled in the first game of the doubleheader for his first hit since returning to the majors, did it again. He scraped one off the Monster to score two and give Boston a 5-1 lead. They couldn’t add any more to their lead, but it was still a nice addition to the scoreboard.
From here, it was all about the Red Sox bullpen getting the job done for the final nine outs. Brandon Workman did his job in the seventh with a 1-2-3 inning. It was then Marcus Walden coming on for the eighth, and while he did allow a one-out double he still got through the frame without allowing a run. Finally, it was all up to Matt Barnes in the ninth. He did allow a runner to get to second after he fumbled a ground ball back to the mound and then threw the ball away, but like Workman and Walden he got through a scoreless inning. That ended the long day of baseball with a split of the doubleheader.
The Red Sox will look to salvage a series split with a win on Sunday in the final game of this series. Boston will be sending Eduardo Rodriguez to the mound to take on Tampa Bay ace and reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 PM ET.