If he was good will hunting, David Price would have won the Oscar after another stellar performance.
Price, who often felt the wrath of fans last season after he berated Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley on a team flight, has started to win back his constituency.
Price’s attitude and outlook are better. He’s healthy. He’s pitched 14 scoreless innings to start the season (granted, both games were against Tampa Bay). He’s pitching economically and with something to prove. It appears he’s happy. He’s saying and doing the right things.
He got a standing ovation when he left Thursday afternoon’s game at Fenway Park after the seventh inning with the score tied, 0-0. And if it appeared that Price didn’t appreciate the applause because he didn’t doff his cap, he gave a legitimate reason after the Red Sox’ 3-2 win in 12 innings.
“It was huge,” Price said about walking off the mound to such an ovation. “To go out there and get 21 outs and not give up a run . . . I didn’t want to tip my cap because I didn’t want to take myself out of the game. I didn’t know if I was going to go back out for the eighth. If I’d have been sure, I definitely would have tipped my cap, but I didn’t want to show Alex [Cora] that I was done.”
Now, if Price could only get a little love from the offense and the bullpen. The offense gave Price nothing. The bullpen served up another Carson Smith implosion, his second of the season in just seven games. When the Sox won it on a Hanley Ramirez walkoff single to right in the 12th, it seemed eons ago that Price had pitched in the game.
This one wasn’t as economical or efficient as Price’s first start, when he threw 76 pitches over seven innings. It took him 91 pitches to get through seven this time, and after Smith allowed a two-run homer to Matt Duffy in the eighth, we all wondered why Cora had taken Price out after those 91 pitches?
It’s an easy second guess. Some of you may have been thinking, for $31 million a year why can’t Price throw 100? But if you’ve been following the handling of Chris Sale and Price from the first day of spring training, you’ve noted that the team wants to go slow with both. They don’t want to overload them early in the season, with the hope that they’ll be fresher late. Of course, Price exited a 0-0 game, so you could easily ask why the Red Sox offense couldn’t mount any semblance of an attack against a team that went with its second “bullpen game” of the season.
“I think the game will let us know,” Cora said afterward. “I think we’re still taking care of [Price and Sale]. We talked about when I got here, with Dana [LeVangie, the pitching coach] and Brad [Pearson, the trainer], that to go where we want to go and win, they have to be healthy, and with the bullpen we have I feel very comfortable with them giving me six or seven innings and move on to the bullpen. We had a lot of good matchups out there. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We feel like on a daily basis we’ll decide where we go with them.”
But Price and the other starters need to be afforded some breathing room from time to time. It’s tough when every game you pitch requires you to pitch a shutout. Price should be 2-0.
As the season goes on Price’s workload will likely increase to where he’ll be able to go beyond seven innings, and his pitch count should rise into the 100s. He allowed six base runners on Thursday, including three walks, two in the fifth inning. Price allowed the first two batters to reach in the third inning, on a double by Daniel Robertson and a walk to Rob Refsnyder, but he emerged unscathed by retiring the next three.
Price was excited the Red Sox came back to win. He referenced the good job done by rookie lefthander Bobby Poyner, who got his first major league win with two strong innings of relief. Price referenced the great offensive start Ramirez is off to with big late-game hits.
Price wasn’t lamenting his no-decision at all. He knows if he makes 30-33 starts this season the numbers will be there, particularly with the way he’s throwing the ball. Price has not broken the radar guns in the process, but if he continues to throw like he has Price could be looking at Cy Young consideration again.
He became the first Red Sox pitcher to hold his opponents scoreless through his first two starts since Derek Lowe in 2002. Including the postseason, Price has not allowed a run in his last 29⅓ innings since returning from the disabled list Sept. 17 — nine games (two starts).
He is 20-11 with a 3.21 ERA since joining the Red Sox at the start of the 2016 season, despite starting his Red Sox career with a 6.75 ERA in his first seven starts. He is also the first Red Sox pitcher in the last 100 years to go seven-plus scoreless innings with four or fewer hits in each of his first two starts of a season.
In spring training, when asked about winning the fans back, Price said so much of it was tied into his performance in 2018. If he was good will hunting for the fans in his first Fenway start, it was a performance the fans enjoyed on his road to redemption.