By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Led by team-friendly and ‘bigger goals than this’ postgame quotes, Boston Red Sox David Price visibly fought back an obviously emotional release following his lights out performance in an ALCS-clinching Game 5 win last week.
A victor in a postseason start for the first time in a career that started with a wide-eyed smile under a slightly crooked Tampa Bay Rays hat and without a touch of the gray that currently pokes out of his beard, Price knew that the demons exorcised in Houston were real. Admitting that he was happy he would no longer have to answer questions about his past postseason failures, nobody would have faulted Price had he decided to Orange Justice his way through the champagne showers and all the way back to Boston.
But through Price’s long pauses and acknowledgements across the board, his self-awareness — something that’s been both his greatest strength and weakness throughout his three-year run with the Red Sox — remained front and center.
To fully defeat his past, Price knew he would have to do it on an even greater stage, on a night where his oft-criticized hand had to fight through 47-degree weather. Oh, and fittingly, it would have to come against the franchise whose biggest moment links back to the man Price infamously berated on a team flight, seemingly turning an entire city against him, just 15 months ago.
Because of course.
There was a moment where it all could have fallen apart for the 33-year-old lefty, too.
In a bases loaded, no-out jam in the fourth inning, Price did not buckle. His hand did not freeze, nor did his inning end with a grimace and neck whipped backwards or with Alex Cora grabbing the ball from him. In a war of absolute attrition, Price was as nails as one could be going through the all-righty Dodger lineup, escaping with limited damage, and tossing another two innings of one-two-three ball against the heart of L.A.’s offense.
The post-danger performance from Price was so strong that the Dodgers were hopelessly trying to bunt for hits in the top half of the sixth while fans clamored for at least one more inning out of Price. In a World Series game. In brutally cold weather. Rarely is a situation as simultaneously realistic and completely unfathomable as the one the middle of the sixth inning provided.
The comparisons will surely be made, too, but this is absolutely more than 2004 Derek Lowe turning into something more than the near-unpitchable arm he was during the regular season. This is more than starter John Lackey fighting with John Farrell to stay on the bump in 2013 and you actually supporting Lackey in such an argument.
With all due respect to those players, this entire experience feels infinitely more cathartic.
See, there’s a part of David Price the $30 million Red Sox ace that’s been almost uncomfortably human.
Price tried the nice guy act — “Hey, look, he has a dog! I have a dog! Cool!” was a real sentiment and became mocked mercilessly upon Price’s first rough outing — and when that didn’t work as the Sox flamed out in the first round, he seemingly embraced the idea of making himself “difficult.” If only as a self-motivational tool, almost knowing that the frequently-vampiric Boston media was still going to bite come playoff time had he failed to deliver, no matter his disposition.
In a world of canned quotes and athletes too afraid to give you a look into their own thoughts, Price’s often sarcastic, at times self-deprecating jabs both at his own toughness and towards the media (even when successful, he told the beloved Jonny Miller he was not going to do his job for him, as if to stay on the fence) was a shock. To media, to fans, and some ex-Sox pitchers that ‘knew’ what it took to win — both on the mound and in the wooden, hip-crunching grandstand seats — in Boston.
The approach gave Price a base that often felt ignited by his honest attitude. And while Price has always had the unwavering support of his own clubhouse, it also gave him his share of detractors that were almost begging for Price to opt out of his contract and take the dog and numb hand on the first Eckersley-less flight out of town.
A more polarizing Boston athlete did not exist. Perhaps not in this lifetime, actually.
But above else, it was always real. It was always human.
And it always, deep down, made Price painfully relatable.
You saw the pain on his face as he immediately realized his 10th pitch of the postseason, and in the first inning of his first start of the 2018 postseason, was leaving Fenway Park. In that moment, Price’s pain hit you, as if you both knew that three months of some of the best pitching he’s ever hurled was just flushed down the drain without so much as a clean inning of a fresh start.
His bullpen raking in Houston was akin to a stressed Red Sox fan pacing their living room while arguing balls and strikes to no one. And when Red Sox utility pitcher Nathan Eovaldi countered Alex Bregman’s video work with a 100 mile per hour heater through his whiff, Price told him to “post that.” In that moment, Price might as well have been with you on your couch.
Price is no longer the greatest worry on an otherwise loaded Boston roster. He’s instead an additional weapon for first-year manager Alex Cora if and when it’s time to go for the kill on the Dodgers, be it in Los Angeles or back in frigid Boston. No longer is Price the wild card that the Red Sox have to protect at all costs, but rather an option at Cora’s disposal should the Red Sox need to protect their hopes of successfully ending their nine-month quest to be baseball’s last team standing.
Price is quite simply everything you want — and everything you are — with the Red Sox just 18 innings away from an emotional release that can only be expressed by a traffic-clearing Duckboat tour of the city he’s finally, truly part of.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 98.5 The Sports Hub. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.