- The Red Sox' star lefthander is in the middle of controversy as he tries to work his way back to form after an injury. Can he do it?
David Price has had better weeks, to say the least. After declaring on Wednesday afternoon that he would only talk to the media on days that he pitches, then getting in a shouting match with Boston reporters that night, the Red Sox lefty was roughed up by the Yankees in the Bronx on Thursday. On the heels of last year's subpar inaugural season in Boston and his missing the first quarter of this season due to forearm and elbow inflammation, he has dug his way into quite a hole.
Dealt in deadline blockbusters in both 2014 (from the Rays to the Tigers) and '15 (from the Tigers to the Blue Jays), Price landed a seven-year, $217 million contract with the Red Sox in December 2015, the largest ever granted to a pitcher. His first year in Boston was uneven; he was roughed up for a 4.74 ERA through 17 starts through the end of June, largely due to an inflated batting average on balls in play, but posted a 3.33 ERA thereafter. His final ERA and FIP (3.99 and 3.60) were his highest since his 2009 rookie season, but his 114 ERA+ was on par with his 2013 and '14 seasons, and he did lead the AL with 35 starts and 230 innings while ranking fourth with 228 strikeouts. That work helped the Sox reach the postseason for the first time since 2013, though Price's lone Division Series start was nasty, brutish and short, as the Indians roughed him up for five runs in 3 1/3 innings.
He didn't debut this year until May 29, and after a pair of solid starts against the White Sox (5 IP, 2 H, 3 R and a no-decision) and the Orioles (7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, picking up the win) he faced his frequent tormentors, the first-place Yankees. Price was pounded for eight hits and six runs in just five innings, with most of the damage done by New York catcher Gary Sanchez, who hit two home runs and has now gone 4-for-7 with a pair of walks, four home runs and nine RBIs against Price in his brief career.
Price left after that inning and the Red Sox went on to lose 9-1, getting drubbed again one day after an 8-0 defeat that marked their worst shutout at Yankee Stadium since Sept. 3, 1965. The losses halted the momentum of a team that had won 11 of its previous 15 games to climb to within a game of the AL East lead for the first time since April 20, when they were 10-6. At 32-27, the Sox are back to being three games out of first place.
The sour start pushed Price's season ERA to 5.29 and his FIP to 5.96 thanks to four homers and seven walks allowed in 17 innings. Of course, when a Red Sox player struggles against the Yankees it carries much greater weight, and for Price, it's part of a larger pattern. He now owns a 4.70 career ERA against New York, compared to 3.01 against all other opponents, and the mark is a beefy 8.31 in six starts since signing his new contract.
The extent to which those struggles are related to Wednesday's blowup is unclear, but they won't make it any easier for him to dig his way out. Prior to Wednesday's game, Price—who battled with the media to some degree last year over what he felt was unfair coverage—was asked by the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy, "Has playing in Boston changed you? Are you more cautious now?"
“I’m not cautious. I’m the same me. I don’t talk to the media every day like I did last year and I guess I get blown up for that. But I was honest with everything they asked me last year and I get blown up for that. So they did this to themselves. Talk to me on the day I pitch and that’s it. There are no more personal interviews. There are no more asking me questions on a personal level. That’s done.’’
Elsewhere in the interview, Price reiterated that he loves his teammates, coaches and organization, all of whom he described as supportive. As Shaughnessy noted, Price also stopped short of saying anything good or bad about the city. Following Price’s postseason dud, which ran his playoff record as a starter to 0-8 with a 5.74 ERA, Price sparred with Sox fans on Twitter, albeit in a sarcastic manner. In January, he told the Globe's Peter Abraham that he loved the city, wanted to be more involved in the community and planned to remain in Boston for the duration of his contract rather than exercise an opt-out after the 2018 season. At the same time, he also said that he had received racist taunts while warming up in the bullpen at Fenway Park, a complaint that prefigured Orioles outfielder Adam Jones’ report of similar taunts as a visiting player in May.
After Wednesday's game, Price got into a heated private exchange with Comcast SportsNet New England's Evan Drelich, then responded to the Boston Herald's Steve Buckley, who asked him about his comments to Shaughnessy. Said the pitcher, "Write whatever the [expletive] you want. Just write it. Whatever the [expletive] you want.” After Price engaged in another heated exchange with Drelich, Buckley reported Price yelling, "[Expletive] them! [Expletive] them all. All of them.”
Following Thursday’s start, Price said he stood behind his previous day’s comments, but that his outburst wasn’t the reason for his rough outing. “It was not tough at all to focus today," he told reporters.
While Price is within his rights to limit his interactions with the media, he’s chosen a rough path, particularly in the fishbowl environment that is Boston sports, where everything—particularly poor performances against the Yankees or in the postseason—is magnified. The old adage "Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel" (often misattributed to Mark Twain) applies to pixels as much as paper. Warring with the media is a losing battle, particularly for a pitcher with a record-setting contract surrounded by questions about his ability to rise to the big occasion.
Alas, Price’s actions have increased the pressure he’s under to reverse the aforementioned trends. He’ll have to pitch his way out of his current mess, or risk being piled on by fans and media in a manner that makes the remainder of his stay in Boston a difficult one, no matter how long it lasts.