The price was right for Dustin Pedroia, whose eight-year, $110 million contract extension with the Red Sox was officially announced Wednesday afternoon. Wednesday night, Tampa Bay lefthander David Price put up all the right numbers in a 5-1 win over the Sox before 36,514 at Fenway Park.
“That is what it’s supposed to look like,” said an American League scout who watched Price’s dominating five-hitter, in which the only blemish was a long homer by Mike Napoli in the seventh inning. “Complete domination. Throwing four pitches for strikes any time he wanted. Throwing 80 percent strikes. Just amazing.”
Price, who threw 97 pitches, 72 strikes, looked like he did in 2012, when he captured the AL Cy Young Award. When that happens, it becomes extremely difficult for a team with an offense even as stellar as the Red Sox’ to beat him.
The win moved Tampa Bay within a half-game of the Sox in the AL East.
“We went up against a great pitching performance by David Price tonight,” right fielder Shane Victorino said. “The way I look at it, we came into this series 1½ games up and we can leave it 1½ games up. That’s the way we’re approaching it.’’
In Price and Matt Moore, the Rays have a dynamic 1-2 punch. And their formidable rotation will get Alex Cobb (blister) back soon.
Price (5-5) took a three-run outburst by his offense in the third inning against Red Sox starter Felix Doubront and ran with it. Napoli absolutely crushed his 14th homer for his 63d RBI. Price did not have to apologize for much else.
With one out in the third, Tampa’s Desmond Jennings stroked a single to left and advanced to second on Doubront’s throwing error on a pickoff attempt. After Evan Longoria singled to left, sending Jennings to third, Ben Zobrist attempted a safety squeeze and beat it out while Jennings held at third to load the bases.
Rookie of the Year candidate Wil Myers blooped a single to right-center, scoring a pair of runs. After the Rays executed a nice double steal, Luke Scott stroked a soft liner to the opposite field in left, the Rays’ third run scoring on the sacrifice fly.
The teams split the first two games of the series, but after Boston had beaten Tampa Bay, 6-2, Tuesday night, the Sox had won 10 of 14 games this season against the Rays. The Sox were trying to continue that “statement” against the team they may end up battling with to the bitter end — but it didn’t work out.
“They have a great pitching staff, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be executing,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “We had some chances against a few of his pitches and we couldn’t get it done.”
Price’s dominance provided a glimpse of what the Red Sox hope to get if Clay Buchholz can recover from his neck/shoulder strain and pitch like the ace he had been (9-0, 1.71 ERA) before getting hurt. Price has simply made everyone in the rotation better.
Price was on the disabled list for 47 days with a triceps strain he suffered May 15 vs. the Red Sox at Tropicana Field, but once he returned on July 2, the Rays took off.
Price started the season 1-4 with a 5.24 ERA in his first nine starts, but he had gone 3-1 with a 1.97 ERA in four starts after being activated heading into Wednesday night’s game. Price is now 35-13 against the AL East in his career and improved to 5-1 at Fenway.
Price was the beneficiary of some good defense, too. In the fourth inning, after Victorino had singled, shortstop Yunel Escobar produced a Web Gem when he fielded Pedroia’s grounder behind the bag and flipped to second base with his glove behind his back. Zobrist converted the relay throw to get Pedroia by a half-step for the double play.
There weren’t too many other threats vs. Price early on.
David Ortiz led off with a single in the second inning but Price struck out Napoli and Jonny Gomes before Stephen Drew tapped to the mound for the third out. Napoli led off the fifth with a ground-rule double, but Price got the next three batters to wiggle out of Boston’s most serious threat to that point.
“Price was throwing almost 80 percent strikes, that’s unheard of,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “He pitched one heck of a game.”
Doubront (7-4) wasn’t having a bad game, either.
He did revert somewhat to his first-inning woes of earlier outings. The Rays put two men on when Zobrist singled and Myers walked, but Doubront got out of it. The Rays had runners on in the first, third, fourth, sixth, and seventh innings. Doubront exited after 6⅔ innings, allowing three runs and six hits in another quality start. It was his 12th this season, tying John Lackey for the team lead.
Doubront had entered 3-0 with a 1.83 ERA in his previous six starts. It was the first time he’d allowed more than two earned runs in seven starts, so he’d been on a good run and Boston’s most effective pitcher during that stretch.
On any other night, Doubront might have been the victor.
Even after Price allowed the Napoli homer, he immediately got Gomes to pop to second and Drew to foul to third to end the inning.
The Rays added some insurance in the eighth when James Loney knocked in Scott with a single off lefty Matt Thornton. Pedro Beato started the inning by getting an out and then allowing a single to Myers. Thornton came on and Scott reached on a forceout. Sean Rodriguez’s single to right moved Scott to second, and Loney’s RBI single went through the hole at second.
Jose Molina added a single that produced the second run of the inning and the fifth Tampa Bay run.
Price had more than enough offense at that point.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.