Once again, David Price stumbles when Red Sox need him to soar

SEATTLE -- Once again, the Price was wrong for the Boston Red Sox.

For seven innings Tuesday night, David Price absolutely dominated the Seattle Mariners. He gave up three hits and didn't issue a walk, the hardest contact coming when Luis Sardinas' comebacker struck him on the right quadriceps in the sixth inning. Price threw only 89 pitches, had a four-run lead, and was working on a scoreless streak that reached 15 innings dating to Thursday night against the Los Angeles Angels.

"The way he was throwing the ball," manager John Farrell said, "I'm thinking he was probably looking at a potential shutout."

But almost nothing has gone Price's way in his terribly disappointing first season with the Red Sox. Sure enough, when he went out to pitch in the eighth inning, he gave up a leadoff homer to Mike Zunino and three consecutive soft singles to cut the lead to 4-2 and bring the go-ahead run to the plate.

There are bad losses and there are Abad losses. And when lefty reliever Fernando Abad, acquired from the Minnesota Twins before Monday's trade deadline, marked his Red Sox debut by giving up a three-run homer to Seattle slugger Robinson Cano, a 5-4 "gut punch," in the words of Farrell, qualified as both the former and the latter.

"It's tough," said Abad, who has given up only two homers to left-handed hitters all season, "but I have to look forward and get them next time."

In the three-way fight for the AL East title, the Red Sox lost ground to both the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, slipping to two games off the pace. More troublesome, though, is their 11-12 record in games started by Price, who parlayed a 24-8 mark in his starts last season for the Detroit Tigers and Blue Jays into a $217 million contract with Boston.

Suffice it to say, the Red Sox haven't gotten their money's worth.

"That's baseball. That's the way it goes sometimes," Price said. "Just have to move on."

Look, there's no denying that Price has pitched better lately. He tossed eight strong innings in a 3-2 loss to the Texas Rangers on July 5 at Fenway Park, then blanked the Tampa Bay Rays for eight innings on July 10. After back-to-back rough starts in which he gave up a total of eight runs and 22 hits in only 11 1/3 innings against the New York Yankees (July 17) and the Twins (July 23), he rebounded to shut out the Angels for eight innings in a tough-luck 1-0 loss last week before those seven stellar innings against the Mariners.

"I'm executing better now," Price said. "That's good."

It's also little consolation when Price makes a bad pitch late in a game. It happened on June 8 in San Francisco when he gave up an eighth-inning homer to Giants rookie Mac Williamson. It happened again six days later when Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop got him for a leadoff homer in the eighth at Fenway.

For the record, Price shrugged off the suggestion that he was affected by Sardinas' line drive. After all, he retired five of the next six batters. If anything, Price blamed his pitch selection, namely a first-pitch curveball to Zunino that got the eighth inning off to a bad start.

"With the exception of that, I made good pitches," Price said. "That's the toughest part."

Too often it has seemed as if Price is a victim of Murphy's Law, where anything that can go wrong has gone wrong. Asked if he feels "snakebitten" to lose some tough games recently, Price said, "Not really. Early on in the season, I was really bad and just continued to win. That's part of it. Still need to pitch better. Just a tough loss."

When Price is on the mound, any loss is a tough one. And the Red Sox have gotten far more of those than they bargained for.