When he got the sign from catcher Jose Lobaton, the thought crossed David Price’s mind to shake him off.
Either that or step off the mound altogether.
“I doubted myself on the pitch,” Price said. “It was not the pitch that I really wanted to throw.”
David Ortiz already had shipped a first-inning pitch into the Red Sox bullpen, a loud blast that set the tone for a long night for Price.
“I thought that was a real good one,” Price said.
After missing with a fastball up and in to Ortiz, he didn’t want to give him another one.
He did anyway.
Price came inside with another heater, this time belt high, and Ortiz sent it on a hot-air balloon ride toward Pesky’s pole.
As it hung in the air, Ortiz admired his work from the box.
He waited and waited and waited for it to drop fair before starting his stroll around the basepaths.
From the mound, Price said, he never doubted it was gone. But after hitting the home run that ultimately would knock Price out of the game in the bottom of the eighth and put an exclamation point on the Red Sox’ 7-4 win over the Rays in Game 2 of their American League Division series, Price just wanted Ortiz to get his victory lap over with.
“He steps in the bucket and hits a homer,” Price said. “And he stares at it to see if it’s fair or foul, I’m sure that’s what he would say. But as soon as he hit it and I saw it, I knew it was fair. Run.”
Once Ortiz crossed the plate, Rays manager Joe Maddon came out to take the ball from Price.
The Rays entered Game 2 with absolute confidence that Price could restore order following an ugly Game 1 loss, only to watch him suffer through the worst postseason start of his career.
“Absolutely, I’m disappointed,” Price said. “I don’t know what my stat line is, but I know I gave up quite a few earned runs. It stings especially in a time in the postseason whenever you want to go out there and pitch your best.”
What made it worse was that even after giving up nine hits (six for extra bases), two homers, and seven earned runs in seven innings, Price didn’t feel like he pitched that poorly.
“For the most part, I feel like I did execute and I had some tough breaks. They hit some balls hard and that’s just baseball,” he said. “Honestly, I thought I was pretty good tonight, but that team just beat me.”
Price still couldn’t wrap his head around some of the bounces the Red Sox got. Jacoby Ellsbury’s first hit of the night was a first-inning looper that barely left the infield. In the third inning, he turned a soft flare down the third base line into an RBI double.
Stephen Drew, who came in 0 for 10 against Price, tagged him for a two-out RBI triple off the wall in the fourth inning.
David Ross, who had two homers in five career at-bats against Price but had just one extra-base hit in all of September, stroked a 2-1 pitch from Price for a double off the Monster in his first at bat.
Even the homers seemed to defy logic.
Entering the night, Ortiz was 8 for 37 with no long balls against Price, and Price had given up just two homers in his past 12 starts.
Taken as a whole, Price could only shake his head.
“That’s kind of what it was,” Price said. “They had some broken-bat singles, some broken-bat doubles, some 305-foot fly balls go for doubles and triples, and it’s part of pitching in this park.”
Eventually, Price settled in and retired six straight in the sixth and seventh inning, but by that point, the Rays were playing from behind.
“He had one moment there where he was missing fastball up and away to somebody, and then he did definitely miss location there on Ortiz at the end with that home run,” Maddon said. “The first home run was a cutter down the middle. But overall fastball command, and he kept getting better.
“That seventh inning was pretty darn good, the way he went through that particular moment. And I thought again he was fine. I’m looking at the velocity and a lot of 93s, a lot of 94s. He started getting his changeups where he wanted later in the game. He did not throw a lot of curveballs. Typically he gets better. It was really an awkward start that put them in a good position.”
Even though Price pitched the complete game that punched the Rays’ postseason ticket earlier this week against Texas, he entered this start knowing he was still missing true postseason credentials.
He remains winless in four career playoff starts with a 5.81 ERA, and summed up the sentiment as succinctly as possible, saying, “You’re as good as your last game and tonight I wasn’t very good.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.