David Price’s Red Sox journey was always something of a roller coaster.
But at its peak, it was some fantastic ride.
As Price apparently prepares to leave baseball, admitting this past week he is contemplating retirement at the end of this season, his championship run with the Red Sox is remembered not only for what it was in baseball, a stunning tale of redemption on the mound, but also on a personal level for when it happened, coinciding with the earliest days of my time as a Globe columnist.
But mostly, it should be remembered as one of the best clutch performances in Boston sports lore, coming from one of the most complicated personalities on the local sports landscape.
Price hasn’t made many headlines since joining the Dodgers as part of the infamous Mookie Betts trade in 2019, not with his decision to sit out the COVID-shortened 2020 season and deal with various injuries and limited appearances these past two years. But his Red Sox career, brief as it might have been, deserves some reflection.
While fellow former Boston star and recent retiree Zdeno Chara took a well-deserved, much-celebrated turn in the spotlight — Chara’s one-day contract with the Bruins was a fitting end for the former captain — Price’s news passed much more quietly under the radar. Not surprising, given the roller coaster that included plenty of lows, from feeling fans’ disappointment for lashing out at Dennis Eckersley on a team plane, to drawing their distrust for playing too much Fortnite for his wrist to handle, to generally earning their disdain for bristling at any criticism, real or perceived.
But what he did on a cool October evening in Chavez Ravine should earn nothing but enduring praise. It was Price who clinched the 2018 World Series championship with a Game 5 performance for the ages, capping a dominant Series that hindsight still says should have earned him the MVP, or at least a share of it with unlikely hero Steve Pearce. Price’s seven innings of three-hit ball in Game 5, combined with the two outs of relief he got in the 18-inning marathon Game 3 loss and a solid six-inning performance in Game 2, added up to a 1.98 World Series ERA with 10 strikeouts.
In becoming the first pitcher since Hall of Famer John Smoltz (1996) to allow fewer than seven hits while pitching at least 13⅔ innings in a World Series, Price rewrote his story of playoff frustration, a story that preceded his time in Boston but had only been exacerbated since he joined the team as a big-ticket free agent in 2016.
At one point, Price’s teams (from Tampa Bay to Detroit to Toronto to Boston) had lost 10 straight playoff games he’d started. And 2018 started with more of the same — he’d been beaten up by the Yankees in the Division Series, only days after spending yet another news conference answering questions about his playoff failures. But he found his groove in the ALCS in Houston, rediscovering his devastating changeup.
By the time he finally tasted victory, was it really any surprise he was going to savor its sweet revenge?
“I hold all the cards now. And that feels so good,“ Price memorably said after the Red Sox won the World Series. “That feels so good. I can’t tell you how good it feels to hold that trump card. And you guys have had it for a long time. You’ve played that card extremely well. But you don’t have it anymore, none of you do, and that feels really good.”
Price turned plenty of people off with those comments, but his teammates were never among them. He was immensely popular in the clubhouse, looked to as a leader, respected for his willingness to pitch whenever called. Remember, it was Chris Sale who was originally slated to start Game 5 (and who actually got the final three outs in relief), only to have manager Alex Cora slyly announce in the wee hours after Game 4 that it would be Price, who had made that relief appearance in Game 3. He was the guy, who at the start of the playoffs, insisted his personal story wasn’t what mattered. Only the team’s.
“If I lose the entire playoffs and we win a World Series, I’ll take that,” he said. “That’s what I’m here for. I don’t want this to be about me and me not winning.”
Ultimately, he was the one to make sure the conversation changed. As he staggered across Dodger Stadium in the heady moments after the win, mingling among teammates, team personnel, family members, and media, he almost couldn’t believe what he’d done. Rick Porcello, his teammate, recognized it immediately, pounding his chest and pointing to his heart by way of describing what Price was about.
“If there’s one guy that I couldn’t be more happy and proud of, it’s him,” Porcello said. “It’s enough pressure just to pitch in the postseason, but everything he’s had to deal with, those starts that he had were unbelievable. And he carried us. He carried us as a starting pitcher. It was absolutely incredible.”
And one worth remembering as Price prepares to hang up his professional glove.