BOSTON -- If a pitcher with 143 career wins in the majors, including 16 in 2018, needs a boost of confidence, maybe Alex Cora gave just that to David Price immediately following Game 4 of the American League Division Series when the Boston Red Sox eliminated the New York Yankees.
"I did expect to make more starts for us in this year's playoffs," Price said Saturday before relaying the message he received from his manager. "Alex told me before we even got off the field that night. So for him to tell me before we even took our jerseys off to put on our postseason shirts that we get when we win, that was special."
Price didn't even get through two innings in his ALDS start against the Yankees, giving up two home runs, two walks and three runs. A pitcher who has never won a postseason start in 10 outings somehow had his worst start yet. He fell to 0-9 with a 6.03 ERA as a starter (he has a 5.28 ERA overall, including relief appearances).
The Red Sox know, however, that they're going to need Price to deliver this postseason if they're going to win their fourth World Series in 15 seasons, especially after losing 7-2 to the Astros in Game 1 on Saturday night. They don't have the bullpen depth to match the Astros -- not that the bullpen isn't capable of coming up big in the series. Cora has consistently reminded the media that the Red Sox are built around their rotation. Indeed, unlike the three other teams still playing, the Red Sox are carrying only 11 pitchers on their American League Championship Series roster instead of 12.
Price has had to face these questions before. At this point, you can't really blame him for not doing a lot of self-reflection -- or if he has, it's in private moments and not with the media. Asked what is the biggest thing he had learned about pitching in the postseason, Price answered, "I don't know. That's a tough question. I don't really have an answer. I feel like I've given some answers the past eight years. But I really don't have an answer for it. But I mean it's different baseball. It is. It's fun. I enjoy it. Haven't been successful the way that I know I can be and will be, but I look forward to getting out there tomorrow."
Nobody doubts Price's competitiveness or desire. Cora talked about Price needing more separation in the velocity between his fastball, sinker, cutter and changeup. Price was spot-on for most of the second half -- he went 6-1 with a 2.25 ERA -- although his last two starts of the regular season (when he gave up five home runs) and his start against the Yankees weren't nearly as good.
So what to expect in Game 2 on Sunday? I don't think anybody knows -- even David Price.
It is interesting to look back at his postseason starts and analyze what went wrong in each game. I would suggest Price hasn't pitched as poorly as his postseason reputation suggests -- there have been a few too many home runs, but definitely some bad luck and certainly a lack of run support along the way.
2010 ALDS Game 1 vs. Rangers: 6⅔ IP, 9 H, 5 R, 0 BB, 8 SO, 2 HR
Score: Rangers 5, Rays 1
The Rangers chipped away at Price with two runs in the second and single runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings. Nelson Cruz hit a mammoth home run to center field in the third when he swung at a 3-0 fastball. Bengie Molina homered in the fourth, yanking a 96 mph fastball on the outside corner to left field. A note on how things have changed in a short time: Price, then 25, had pitched 44 innings the final month with a 1.64 ERA as the Rays battled the Yankees for the AL East title (the Rays won by a game). Joe Maddon had him go over 100 pitches in five of six starts. Eight years later, it's unlikely any pitcher would be worked that hard down the stretch. Maybe Price was a little fatigued heading into October.
2010 ALDS Game 5 vs. Rangers: 6 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 6 S0, 0 HR
Score: Rangers 5, Rays 1
Matched up again with Cliff Lee, the Rays didn't give Price any run support -- that's a theme we will see throughout his postseason starts -- but all three Texas runs off Price came courtesy of heads-up baserunning. The Rangers took a 1-0 lead in the first when Elvis Andrus singled and stole second, and then scored all the way from second on Josh Hamilton's 3-1 groundout (Andrus was running on the pitch). In the fourth, Cruz doubled with two outs, stole third and scored on Kelly Shoppach's throwing error. In the sixth, the Rangers got two runners with a ground-ball single and an infield hit, but the Rays couldn't turn a 3-6-1 double play and Vladimir Guerrero scored all the way from second as Price was late covering first and then made a bad throw home.
2011 ALDS Game 3 vs. Rangers: 6⅔ IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 3 SO, 1 HR
Score: Rangers 4, Rays 3
Price took a 1-0 lead into the seventh. Adrian Beltre singled and then Mike Napoli homered on a 2-2 fastball. The Rangers scored two more runs in the inning as the Rays' bullpen let an inherited runner score. Basically: good game, one mistake. Two late runs for the Rays after Price departed weren't enough.
2013 ALDS Game 2 vs. Red Sox: 7 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 2 BB, 5 SO, 2 HR
Score: Red Sox 7, Rays 4
The Red Sox battered Price for six extra-base hits, including two home runs by David Ortiz in the first inning and eighth inning (which finally knocked out Price after 102 pitches). One home run landed in the bullpen in right-center and the second one Ortiz wrapped around the foul pole.
2014 ALDS Game 3 vs. Orioles: 8 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 SO, 1 HR
Score: Orioles 2, Tigers 1
Price pitched a great game. The only mistake was Cruz's two-run home run in the sixth inning to break up a scoreless game. In fact, Detroit's lone run came in the bottom of the ninth after Price had left. The mistake was barely a mistake: a 342-foot opposite-field home run that barely cleared the fence:
2015 ALDS Game 1 vs. Rangers: 7 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 5 SO, 2 HR
Score: Rangers 5, Blue Jays 3
The Rangers scored twice in the third, a rally that started when Price hit Rougned Odor with an 0-1 curveball. They added two more in the fifth when Price again hit Odor leading off the inning and Robinson Chirinos followed with a two-run home run. Maybe Odor was in Price's head after that since he homered off him in the seventh with a ball that -- again -- barely cleared the fence in right field.
2015 ALCS Game 2 vs. Royals: 6⅔ IP, 6 H, 5 R, 0 BB, 8 SO, 0 HR
Score: Royals 6, Blue Jays 3
After winning Game 4 in relief against the Rangers -- although he gave up three runs in three innings -- Price finally looked as if he would win a postseason start, leading 3-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh. Except these were the 2015 Royals, the team of the late-game comeback. Ben Zobrist started with a pop fly to right field that second baseman Ryan Goins was ready to catch but then backed off, receiving an ugly glare from right fielder Jose Bautista. The inning unraveled from there. Lorenzo Cain singled sharply to right field. Eric Hosmer hit a soft liner to left-center off a pretty good changeup. After a groundout, Mike Moustakas hit a soft liner just over a leaping Goins, off another changeup. Salvador Perez struck out. With a 3-2 count on Alex Gordon and the score tied 3-3, Price shook off his catcher, threw a fastball and Gordon lined a double into right-center. It wasn't hit all that hard.
2015 ALCS Game 6 vs. Royals: 6⅔ IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 8 SO, 2 HR
Score: Royals 4, Blue Jays 3
Price would get a no-decision in this one and would pitch pretty well except for giving up home runs in the first two innings to Zobrist and Moustakas -- both off poorly located pitches. Against Zobrist, the catcher set up outside and Price left it low and in. Moustakas homered off a changeup in the middle of the zone.
2016 ALDS Game 2 vs. Indians: 3⅓ IP, 6 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 3 SO, 1 HR
Score: Indians 6, Red Sox 0
This one got away early as the Indians scored four in the bottom of the second, including Lonnie Chisenhall's three-run homer that just cleared the wall:
2018 ALDS Game 2 vs. Yankees: 1⅔ IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 0 SO, 2 HR
Score: Yankees 6, Red Sox 2
I know this: The man is due for a good start and a postseason victory. I also know this: Baseball isn't always fair.