David Price finally dominates, but Red Sox throw it all away

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When it was over and Hanley Ramirez's high, wide throw had settled in the grass behind home plate, a half-dozen Boston Red Sox officials filed out of a suite, their heads hanging low enough to drag the infield dirt. And there in the front row, all by himself, was president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, unable to look away after the season's most difficult loss to watch.

It wasn't supposed to go down this way. Not after struggling ace David Price dominated the Los Angeles Angels for eight innings Thursday night. In the opener of an 11-game West Coast swing, the kind that can blow up even the most promising season, Price gave up seven hits but no runs in a performance that easily could have set the tone for the rest of the trip.

Instead, the Sox threw it all away in a 2-1 loss to the Angels.

"Oh, he was unbelievable," Ramirez said of Price. "He knew we needed a big game from him, and he came out and did his job."

If only Price's teammates could have said the same after their fourth consecutive loss -- their sixth in the last seven games. The Red Sox are 8-32 when they score fewer than five runs and 11-13 in one-run games. And at a time when Dombrowski has brought most of the baseball ops and scouting staffs together for meetings in advance of Monday's trade deadline, it's worth wondering whether there's any deal he can make that will fix the team's apparent flaws.

"We feel like this is a complete team when you look at balance from a position-player standpoint and the guys in our [starting] rotation," manager John Farrell said before the game. "It's up to us to go out and execute and perform to our abilities."

Save for Price, it didn't happen Thursday night. Angels starter Jered Weaver had to strain to throw his fastball at 85 mph and put eight runners on base in 5 2/3 innings, but the high-octane Red Sox offense managed only one run against him. The Sox might not have scored at all if catcher Sandy Leon hadn't opportunistically dashed from first-to-third on a single to right field, enabling him to score on Mookie Betts' sacrifice fly in the third inning.

And never mind that fill-in closer Brad Ziegler did his job by getting four groundballs in the bottom of the ninth. Third baseman Travis Shaw's low throw allowed Mike Trout to reach on a leadoff infield hit, and after singles by Albert Pujols and Andrelton Simmons loaded the bases, Ramirez fielded former Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava's chopper to first base and threw it over catcher Leon's head in an attempt to start a game-ending double play.

"I tried to get two before I got one," Ramirez said after Trout and pinch-runner Ji-Man Choi scored. "I know better than that. That can't happen."

It can't, especially when Price finally pitched the way the Red Sox expected for their $217 million. For only the second time in 22 starts, he didn't give up a run. For the third time, he didn't give up an extra-base hit. The Angels advanced only two runners into scoring position. And it all came after back-to-back starts in which he gave up eight runs and 22 hits, and failed to complete six innings against the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins.

The difference? Price wasn't particularly expansive, choosing to lean on a classic pitching cliche -- "Just executed pitches," he said, repeatedly -- rather than dissecting what he did well. But Price, a classic power pitcher for most of his career, used his changeup and curveball more often, especially early in the count. And when he needed his heater in the eighth inning, it was there. His final four pitches clocked in at 94 mph to strike out Kole Calhoun with the tying run on first base.

"I painted a lot more pitches," he said. "It was better."

For a change, it was more Rembrandt than paint-by-numbers. And it was what the Red Sox have been waiting for at precisely the right time. After getting swept at home in a three-game series against the Detroit Tigers, and with the trade deadline looming, they needed Price to be more than merely a steady hand. They needed him to be lights-out.

"He was strong, he was powerful," Farrell said. "He had a very good two-seamer and a changeup with darting action in the strike zone for so many groundballs here tonight. Stayed out of the middle of the plate. On a night when he was his normal self and the guy that we pursued to bring in here, he pitched outstanding."

And then Ramirez threw it away.

What a waste.