We can agree that David Price and Craig Kimbrel have some sort of Yankee-phobia, a suggestion both players would likely deny. Short of asking them to take a polygraph on the subject, it would be hard for both to prove otherwise.
Whether it’s the intimidating lineup, the venue, the rabid Yankee fans, who knows? They would talk about not executing pitches and having poor location. That would be accurate, but we know there’s more to it than that. Perhaps a Hall of Fame-bound closer and a Cy Young Award-winning pitcher are spooked by the Yankees.
With the Bronx Bombers gone, we can reasonably hope that Price will be OK against Houston in the ALCS. He had two good starts against the Astros this season: June 2 in Houston, when he went six innings and allowed three runs while striking out seven in a 5-4 win, and Sept. 7 in Boston, when he pitched 6⅓ innings and allowed two runs while striking out 10 in a 6-3 loss. Price also pitched 6⅔ innings of scoreless relief against the Astros in last year’s Division Series.
Kimbrel is one of the most dominant relievers since Mariano Rivera, but the Yankees are his bugaboo. In six regular-season games this season, he had a 4.76 ERA against them, including 6.75 in three games at Yankee Stadium. Kimbrel has faced the Yankees 21 times in his career with a 3.98 ERA, which is certainly not horrible but is pedestrian for such an elite reliever.
In Game 4 Tuesday, Kimbrel allowed two runs in the ninth, though he got the save.
The problem is, he imploded last season in Game 4 against the Astros. John Farrell brought him on in the eighth inning after Chris Sale had allowed the game-tying homer to Alex Bregman to make it 3-3 and a single by Evan Gattis.
With two outs, Kimbrel came on to face George Springer. He threw a wild pitch, walked Springer, then allowed an RBI single by Josh Reddick to give the Astros a 4-3 lead.
He also pitched the ninth, and after a hit batsman and a single, Carlos Beltran’s double scored another run.
So there’s that to consider with Kimbrel. It’s a stretch to think he also has an Astros-phobia, but that outing wasn’t pretty, and it cost the Red Sox a chance to advance.
Obviously, Alex Cora isn’t going to be afraid to go to Kimbrel, but he may want to avoid the four- or five-out save opportunities. Cora appears to have growing confidence in Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier, so Kimbrel may not have to get four or five outs.
Cora said Wednesday that Price would start Game 2, following Sale in Game 1, which is the right thing to do considering his success against Houston this season.
Some had suggested that the Sox use Price exclusively as a reliever, an Andrew Miller type who can pitch multiple innings and at high-leverage times. But the Red Sox did that last season against the Astros only because they didn’t think Price could stretch out as a starter after his season-long bout with a forearm injury.
This time, there’s no such issue. Price is fine, and when pitching his game, he is capable of going deep into a game and neutralizing Astros hitters.
Needless to say, Price and Kimbrel are two very important pitchers. If both do what they’re capable of doing, the Red Sox will be in good shape, even against a Houston team that could very easily repeat.
And look at it this way: Could it really get any worse for these two guys?
Better off not answering that. At least not yet.