LOS ANGELES — What do you do when they’ve called you a failure, when they’ve booed you at home, when they’ve questioned their trust and questioned your salary? What do you do when you’ve battled a franchise legend on your team plane, battled fake Fortnite foes in the virtual world, and battled your own reputation for disaster when the games matter most?
If you’re David Price, you keep on pitching, because that’s all you know how to do. You take the ball on short rest for a second straight series and you tell yourself your chance to clinch a World Series title is no different than any other pitching performance of your life. You take the mound in a Red Sox jersey that has been at times as comforting as a second skin, at times so suffocating you can’t wait to tear it off, and you pitch the absolute game of your life in the biggest moment of your career.
You head out to the mound at Dodger Stadium for your eighth inning of the night, taking your measly 83 pitches and paltry three Dodger hits and you tell yourself you can do more to reward the intensifying cheers of a multiplying pro-Red Sox crowd. You walk the first batter — the first baserunner you have allowed since a leadoff triple in the third, which should never have been a hit anyway but your right fielder lost track of the ball — and you turn to see your manager on his way to pull you from the game.
You hand him the ball, and you take a walk to the visitors’ dugout that isn’t remarkable simply because it is bathed in a standing ovation on the road in the Series, but for what it represents in your career. A short walk in distance, but one of the longest, most fulfilling, most amazing journeys of redemption the Boston sports world has witnessed. If you weren’t standing at home, too, when will you ever?
This was David Price, the man who couldn’t win in the postseason, the man whose 2018 playoff journey opened with one more of those ugly meltdowns against the Yankees, the man who answered question after question about his failings in October, the man who could have (should have?) been MVP of a World Series the Red Sox clinched with their 5-1 Game 5 victory Sunday night in LA.
This was David Price, the man who’d just mowed down the Dodgers lineup with such ease it barely put a strain on the left arm so many of us never believed would be able to deliver this title, the man who’d finished out the 2018 playoffs with a personal three-game streak of going at least six innings and giving up no more than three hits, the man who in both the ALCS and World Series moved up a day early to take his starts, the one who had even added two-thirds of an inning of relief in Thursday night’s marathon 18-inning game, the one that would be the only loss these dominant Red Sox would suffer in the World Series.
And this was David Price in the heady aftermath of victory, wandering through the crowds across Dodger Stadium field, past reliever Joe Kelly, who’d finished out the eighth inning for him, past fellow starter Chris Sale, whose start he’d taken in this clinching game and who’d struck out the side to finish the ninth, through the madness and mayhem of a night that didn’t seem as if it had truly even hit him yet.
“It feels really good. Better than I ever expected,” he said, echoing his post-ALCS clinching words after he’d pitched a similar gem in Houston, when he called that one of the most “special nights” of his life.
“Even more so,” he said. “Even better.”
Sports is at its best when it mirrors the emotions we all share, when it opens the door to redemption, when it takes the ones we batter and bruise with our disappointment and dread and lifts them up to try again. And when they deliver the way Price did Sunday, when they write an ending that doesn’t just seem appropriate for Hollywood but actually happens there, well, there’s little you should do but enjoy it.
“Incredible,” is how teammate Rick Porcello described it. “I’m incredibly proud and happy for our entire team, but if there’s one guy that I couldn’t be more happy and proud of it’s him. It’s enough pressure just to pitch in the postseason but everything he’s had to deal with, those three starts that he had were unbelievable. And he carried us. He carried us as a starting pitcher. It was absolutely incredible.
“He’s got it in here,” Porcello said, pounding his own chest. “He’s got a big heart.”
He found it in Houston. A Game 2 ALCS start that only included 4⅔ innings, but that led to a victory for his team, incredibly the first time that had happened in 10 previous playoff starts. By his next start in Game 5, he was the David Price he knew he could be.
“He’s an ace,” closer Craig Kimbrel said. “He’s a big-time pitcher and that’s what we got. It seemed like after that Houston series he stepped up and he was the David Price that everybody knows. He came out here and threw an unbelievable game tonight and we’re going home champions.
“I couldn’t be happier for him. We don’t expect anything other than that from David. We know who he is. We know the competitor through the years. And we know the guy that he is. None of that other stuff matters. He’s going to go out and give everything he has and tonight was pretty special.”
The Series MVP trophy landed in the hands of first baseman Steve Pearce, and to be sure, Pearce seemed to hit an extra base hit every time he got to the plate. But if his story was about the journeyman never giving up, Price’s is the one about the star who finally delivered.
“Remarkable,” team president Sam Kennedy said on the field. “He stepped up. I was thinking there was going to be co-MVPs because in my mind, David Price was one of the MVPs of this. This whole postseason, this entire season, I’m so happy for him.”
Remember Price back before this playoff run started, back when the Red Sox were still only hoping their 108-win regular season would be capped with a title, back when Price was prepping for a start against the Yankees and said this: “If I lose the entire playoffs and we win a World Series, I’ll take that. That’s what I’m here for.”
“That told me he gets it,” Kennedy said. “In baseball we remember and we’re judged by postseason performances. I’m not sure that’s necessarily fair, but it’s just a reality. . . . And Alex Cora said it. A lot of players don’t have success early in their careers, basketball, hockey, football. And he’s now had that level of success that only a few in the game ever achieve.
“He figured it out.”
What an ending.