BOSTON — Maybe David Price is afraid of October. Maybe he hates sweater weather and Halloween and pumpkin spice lattes. Maybe the calendar page flips and so does his heart. I don’t know. Neither do you. And certainly neither do the fans who used his abysmal outing in Game 2 of the ALDS as confirmation of some statement about his soul or his stomach or his genitalia. At this point, I’m not even sure David Price knows what happens to David Price in the postseason.
What I do know is that Saturday night’s rotten start—five outs, three runs, zero strikeouts in a game the Red Sox lost 6–2, to even the series at one game apiece—is not evidence that he can’t pitch at this time of year. It’s evidence that he is a lefthanded pitcher who faced the most dangerous string of righthanded hitters in the game and got rocked. This year the Yankees slugged .470 against southpaws. They faced the 13th fewest lefties in the majors—opponents aren’t stupid—and still led baseball in home runs off them.
To be sure, Price did his part to add to the narrative. He bounced his first offering in front of the plate. Then he pitched worse. The problem was mostly his cutter, which is a devastating weapon for him when he keeps it between 88 and 89 mph. On Saturday he overthrew it, which made it harder for him to command. Catcher Sandy León set up low and outside for the 10th pitch of the game, to rightfielder Aaron Judge. Price left a 91-mph cutter at Judge’s thighs (which is worse than it sounds; it would have been at anyone else’s chest). Judge rocketed it 445 feet to the centerfield edge of the Green Monster. An inning later, another 91-mph cutter destined for the outside edge caught too much of the plate, and catcher Gary Sánchez put that one in the stands, too. By the time leftfielder Andrew McCutchen clanked a fastball off the wall to make it 3–0 in the second inning, Red Sox manager Alex Cora had seen enough. Price trudged off the mound, head down, to the sound of boos.
Within an inning, he was back in the dugout in a jacket, cheering on his teammates.
The numbers are bad. There’s no denying that. Price doesn’t even try to. Ten playoff games started. Ten losses for his team, and nine for him personally. After Saturday, a 6.03 ERA as a postseason starter. Price knows that for all his All-Star selections (five), ERA titles (two) and Cy Young Awards (one), his legacy ultimately has more to do with his performance in October than in April through September. He also knows that it’s a little more complicated than that. The numbers do not reflect the sparkling two-run complete game he twirled in a Game 163 tiebreaker to put the Rays into the 2013 playoffs. They do not reflect that in ’16, with the Blue Jays, he took a one-hitter into the seventh, then was inexplicably allowed to yield four runs before he was pulled. They do not reflect his 2.35 ERA in 15 1/3 postseason relief innings, including 6 2/3 shutout frames last year against the Astros. Still, they paint a picture of arguably the worst playoff starting performance in history.
Price has tried downplaying his struggles. “I think I was just saving all my postseason wins for the Red Sox,” he joked in his introductory press conference, before the 2016 season, after signing with Boston for seven years and $217 million. He has tried feuding with fans and the media over slights real and perceived. Recently he has been trying out a new line—“If you don’t like it, pitch better”—in response to questions about his postseason reputation, and he generally seems to prefer to leave it at that. But on Saturday he volunteered to conduct a press conference after the game, usually the responsibility only of players on the winning side.
“I didn’t execute enough pitches,” he said flatly, as reporters crammed into the tiny room in the bowels of Fenway. “But my spirits aren’t down, my confidence isn’t down. I’m looking forward to getting back out there and getting another opportunity.”
Maybe he will blow that one, too. But if he does, don’t be so quick to blame his resolve. There are absolutely players who can’t take the heat of baseball in the cold. Most of them wash out by the minor leagues. The team views this as a bad outing, not a referendum on Price’s character, pitching coach Dana LeVangie said. Cora said he will continue to use Price as a starter in the postseason.
You will see a lot of columns this month about how David Price is too weak to pitch in the postseason. Unless they are written by David Price, ignore them.