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Chad Finn | Sports Media

John Smoltz says David Price can handle the pressure

Hall of Famer John Smoltz used to be in front of the mic during his 22-year career, but now he’s behind it as Fox Sports’ lead baseball analyst.2015 file/Mike Groll/Associated Press

One would think a franchise that had the good fortune of sending the likes of Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester to the mound over the last two decades would recognize the value of having a true ace fronting its starting rotation. The three World Series titles collected over that span — and the often exceptional pitching from the aforementioned quartet that made them possible — should stand as further confirmation.

But for some reason that has never been fully justified, the Red Sox decided to forgo the build-around-an-ace model last year, instead hoping rotational depth and balance would fill the void. It didn’t happen, and it’s no coincidence the Red Sox won just 78 games and staggered to their second straight last-place finish in the American League East.


Dave Dombrowski, who arrived in August as the president of baseball operations, was quick to remedy the situation in December, signing former Cy Young winner (and two-time runner-up) David Price to a landmark seven-year, $217 million deal. Dombrowski paid the steep going rate for an ace because he knows the value of one.

It’s a move that a rising-star broadcaster who for nearly 20 years was an ace among aces himself — save for a brief foray as a lights-out closer — believes was beyond wise for the Red Sox. John Smoltz goes so far as to say it was necessary for the Red Sox to sign Price, and for more than one reason.

“Having David Price in the one spot makes everyone else better moving back,’’ said Smoltz, who moves into the analyst role alongside Joe Buck on Fox Sports’ No. 1 broadcast team this season. “He takes the pressure off. The Red Sox have been missing that since Jon Lester was doing what he was doing in 2013, and they had depth there too when [Clay] Buchholz was going well and John Lackey did his thing when they won the World Series. They had that ability to lock teams down, not only in a series but day to day.


“One thing the Red Sox have found is that if you don’t have the starting pitching, it doesn’t matter how good your offense is, you’ll struggle. David Price absolutely gives them what they lacked. They almost had to sign him, and they won’t regret that they did.”

There has been some concern that Price, who is engaging on social media and has had some wonky results in the postseason (he has just two wins in eight starts and 14 appearances), might take some time to adjust to the intensity of the Boston market. Smoltz, who joined the Red Sox in 2009 after 20 seasons playing for Atlanta and struggled (8.33 ERA in eight starts before he was released in August), agrees that Boston can be an extreme experience if you’re not sure what to expect.

A conversation with David Price, Brian Bannister, Alex Speier, and Peter Abraham:

“This is a very unique city that is not for everybody,” Smoltz said. “I know that sounds crazy. You can throw a baseball, hit a baseball, catch it, you should be able to do that anywhere. But the mental transition is not as easy as people think. Especially if you’re comfortable in one spot and you’re going to another spot and they expect you to be two steps better. I’m sure there are examples of players not quite settling in during their first year but growing more comfortable over the next couple of seasons. Lackey seemed to be one of those guys. Maybe [Rick] Porcello is too.


“But David? Do not worry about David for a second. He’s a unique guy. He started in a small market in Tampa and did his thing and did it incredibly well. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to stay there with their financial restraints, so he gets traded to Detroit, delivers there, and then delivers in an incredible way in Toronto. Yeah, he’s had some weird, inexplicable bad luck in postseason games, but I don’t think that is going to possibly continue. As great as he is, he probably wanted to succeed so bad, and you’ve just got to let it happen and slow down. I think he’s learned that. Boston is the place where he is going to see all of the fruits of his labor and put all of his experiences to the best use. I’m a big fan of David Price.”

The 2009 season ended up being the last of Smoltz’s Hall of Fame career – he caught on with the Cardinals after the Red Sox let him go and pitched fairly effectively. But he already had begun the process of launching his second career, contributing to TBS’s baseball coverage and local broadcasts of Braves games in 2008. His career ascended quickly — he joined the MLB Network in 2010 and has served as an analyst on Fox Sports’ baseball coverage since 2014. This year, he moves into the lead analyst role, replacing Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci, which should be an enormous upgrade. It is a high-profile gig — Smoltz will work with Joe Buck and call the World Series this year — and one he has worked hard to attain.


“Man, I’m blessed beyond belief in my time in baseball, first with my career and now my role as a broadcaster,’’ said Smoltz. “When I really committed to getting into this industry as a career seven years ago, I told my agent, I’m not just doing this just to do it. I want to be in the moment of the greatest time in baseball: I want to call the World Series. I know I’ve got to put in my time, work hard, learn from my mistakes, and that’s been my blueprint. I don’t just check in and check out. It’s a similar mind-set to the one I had when I was pitching. You have to set lofty goals and get after it.”

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.