The door at the back of the Fenway Park interview room has just creaked open, and the narrow crack of daylight is just enough room for David Price’s 6-foot-5-inch frame to duck underneath and step inside. Within minutes of folding himself behind a microphone, Price’s eternally sleepy eyes are round and alert, pricked in the corners by the creases of the smile on his face. He is the picture of a man done contorting himself about the mistakes of his pitching past.
For all the understandable focus on his failures in the postseason and his meltdowns against the Yankees — two dismal storylines about to intersect in a most dramatic fashion when Price takes the mound for Game 2 of this epic Boston-New York American League Division Series on Saturday night — the veteran pitcher would much prefer the focus be elsewhere. Not because he’s trying to hide from his past, but because he’d rather focus on helping his team write a happy future.
“If I lose the entire playoffs and we win a World Series, I’ll take that,” Price said when asked Friday if a first victory in 10 career postseason starts would endear him to Red Sox Nation forever. “That’s what I’m here for. I don’t want this to be about me and not winning. I want to go out there tomorrow and throw the ball well, and help the Red Sox win. Whether we’re up 1-0 or down 1-0 or whatever it is, I want the Red Sox to win tomorrow.
“That’s what I worry about.”
If only it were that easy. But reality for the Red Sox more likely demands that Price pitch well against the Yankees if this record-setting regular season reaches the World Series dream it needs for true validation. If he crumbles again in Saturday’s start, could the Sox recover enough to emerge in this five-game series? Sure. But where will be Price be then?
Make no mistake. He needs to pitch well Saturday. For himself. For his team. For the fans. For the rest of the baseball world. How else to move past an 0-8 all-time mark in nine playoff starts? A 2-7 record and 7.71 ERA as a member of the Red Sox against the Yankees? An 0-3 mark in four starts with a 10.34 ERA this year alone against the Yanks?
Of course first-year manager Alex Cora swore his allegiance to Price on Friday, pointing to the July nadir of a five-home run debacle in the Bronx as a turning point, when Price made the adjustments that led to him going 7-1 with a 2.41 ERA over his final 12 starts.
“He’s ready. He’s ready for the challenge,” Cora insisted. “This guy, I mean he’s been one of the best pitchers in the big leagues for a long, long time. We get caught up in the numbers and the playoffs and all that. I still remember he pitched Game 163 in Texas and he threw a complete game. I still remember a game a few years ago in Kansas City in the fifth or sixth inning and he was rolling, they hit a pop-up and the ball dropped and after that there were a few seeing-eye singles and he lost the game.
“For him it’s about health. He’s healthy. He prepares. You see the same guy on the mound, but a different game plan going into games. And I do feel that he’s ready for this one.
“We feel he’s in a good place mentally and physically. We have to wait and see.”
Yes we do. There is no escaping it. Price knows it. You know it. He knows that you know it. You know that he knows that you know it. His first three questions Friday were about it, and how he might go about fixing it. After a minor variation of the same answer to the first two — “Just focus on every pitch,” he said, “Just another game, don’t treat it any differently than any other game I’ve been a part of this year or in my career,” he added — the third brought out an interesting admission. Asked if that approach meant he’d done differently in the past, Price said “No.”
“I just don’t have an answer for you guys,” he said. “I’ve been asked that quite a while now. I can’t really put my finger on it. That was my generic answer.”
Well nothing about this series feels generic, even if a large swath of the baseball nation shakes its collective head with a sighing, “those guys again?” These teams did indeed dominate the MLB headlines this season, the Red Sox with their 108 wins and the Yankees with their 100, the Red Sox with their one-game advantage in 19 regular-season meetings and the Yankees with their new major league record for total home runs. But the teams haven’t actually met in the playoffs since the unforgettable Aaron-bleeping-Boone ALCS in 2003 and its Schilling-bloody-sock encore in 2004, setting quite the dramatic backdrop for this series to live up to.
Price, who hasn’t started a postseason game since losing Boston’s ALDS Game 2 two years ago against Cleveland, would benefit more than anyone from a similarly heroic postseason performance.
“It’s been 300-something games, however long it’s been, it has been a while,” he said. “I look forward to getting back to that point, going out there and starting a baseball game and giving us a chance to win.”
That’s the thing about professional sports. You never know when opportunities come, and you never know if you’ll get them again. The chances to make a permanent imprint on a city’s collective psyche are fleeting, and for Price’s most memorable moments to end up being an injury from playing the video game Fortnite or an insult to the venerable player-turned-broadcaster Dennis Eckersley would be a shame for someone of his ability.
Saturday night is his next best chance with the eraser.
“That’s a guy I trust,” Cora said.
Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.