BOSTON -- The root of David Price's problems through the first month of the season can be summed up quite succinctly.
Location, location, location.
There's the location of some of Price's worst pitches, like the belt-high fastball over the heart of the plate that Alex Rodriguez crushed for a two-run home run in the third inning Sunday night or the nearly identical pitch that Rodriguez hit off the wall in left-center field for a two-run double in the fifth.
And then there's the location where Price makes the majority of his starts: 4 Yawkey Way -- Fenway Park, to be exact -- home of the Boston Red Sox and a ballpark where the ace left-hander almost always had success as a visitor with the Tampa Bay Rays. In fact, of all the reasons the Red Sox had to sign Price to a seven-year, $217 million contract, his 1.95 ERA and .186 batting average against in 11 career starts at Fenway was near the top of the list.
So, as surprising as it is to see Price with a 6.14 ERA through five starts, the fact he has allowed 21 runs in 22 2/3 innings at home is downright stunning.
Although he was credited with the win Sunday night in a sweep-clinching 8-6 victory over the New York Yankees that pushed the Red Sox into sole possession of first place in the American League East, they won in spite of Price, who served up six runs on eight hits in seven innings and forced the offense to come from behind with Travis Shaw's game-tying, two-run homer in the fifth inning and Christian Vazquez's decisive two-run blast off flame-throwing reliever Dellin Betances in the seventh.
After years of seeing Price dominate the Red Sox at Fenway, manager John Farrell is as mystified as anyone else.
"I don't know if he's feeling like he's got to overthrow," Farrell said after the Sox completed their first sweep of the Yankees since April 13-15, 2013, "but the pitches are elevated a little more than we're accustomed to seeing."
It wasn't only Sunday night either. Price gave up five runs in five innings against the Baltimore Orioles in the Fenway opener on April 11 and eight runs in only 3 2/3 innings on April 21 against the Toronto Blue Jays. His two best starts have come on the road -- in Cleveland, where he allowed two runs in six innings on Opening Day, and in Atlanta, where he gave up two runs in eight innings and matched his career high with 14 strikeouts last Tuesday night.
Opponents are 27-for-93 (.290) with four home runs against Price at home, 11-for-52 (.212) with no homers against him on the road.
Spotting a trend?
"No," Price insisted, "just execution. I haven't executed in this ballpark as well as I know I'm capable of. That's frustrating. But it's something I can fix."
Price is as calm and relaxed as it gets in front of television cameras, his voice almost sing-song in its serenity. But in the event that he's falling prey to a rush of adrenaline on the mound that has caused him to overthrow in front of the home crowd, Farrell made sure to settle him down before his last showdown with Rodriguez in the seventh inning. With the game tied and Price's pitch count inching toward 100, Farrell trotted to the mound, had a brief conversation, then left his ace in the game.
"He just asked me if I was going to make three good pitches in that situation, and I told him, 'absolutely,'" Price said. "I appreciate him leaving me out there in that situation against a guy who hit the ball against me well twice that night. So, it's good."
Said Farrell: "Just wanted to check with him. We had Taz [reliever Junichi Tazawa] ready, but for a starting pitcher to work for those days in between each start, we're in a tie ballgame, he had every right to go out for that seventh [inning]. In that spot, wanted to give him an opportunity to win, and you know what, it worked out."
Farrell almost certainly wouldn't have given that much rope to any of his other starters. Price, of course, has earned it with what he has done over the years.
But a few lights-out starts at home would go a long way toward building even more confidence from the Fenway crowd, which hasn't seen Price at his best yet this season.
"I think when you look at his body of work to date in this ballpark," Farrell said, "there's been more pitches elevated than we've typically seen, even on the road."
Location, location, location. In his new home, Price's can only get better.