TORONTO – Drama, often bordering on hysteria, is David Price’s frequent companion with the Boston Red Sox. Long before a bout of carpal tunnel syndrome forced him to skip a start against the New York Yankees this week and made his gaming habits a Beantown focal point, there were controversies over his performance, his comments on how the city’s fans didn’t care what type of person he was as long as he pitched well, his angry jousting with media, and a heated feud with NESN broadcaster and Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley.
Every flameup only reinforces how far he is from the chill days in Tampa, Detroit and even Toronto. That’s what happens when you get $217 million from North America’s shrillest sports city.
All of which made the left-hander’s start Saturday against the Blue Jays, whom he helped to the American League Championship Series after his acquisition during the club’s boffo 2015 trade deadline, a critical one. Whether or not too much Fortnite led to the numbness in his hand – carpal tunnel is typically associated with people whose work repeatedly puts strain on the wrist area – the perception that they might be connected is a bad one for the 32-year-old.
Allowing two runs on five hits and three walks with six strikeouts in 5.1 innings during a 5-2 victory should ease the pressure, at least temporarily. He sat at 93.3 m.p.h. with his two-seamer, topped out at 94.8 m.p.h., generated 11 swinging strikes, five with his cutter, and allowed only four balls off the bat in excess of 100 m.p.h.: a Teoscar Hernandez double, a Gio Urshela single plus lineouts by Josh Donaldson and Yangervis Solarte.
A Justin Smoak solo shot to right field in the sixth inning left the bat at 97.5 m.p.h. Price is now 18-3 in 27 career games versus the Blue Jays.
Some relief from interesting week?
"Yeah, absolutely. The more I threw the better I felt, so that’s a very good sign," said Price, describing the positives that told him he was right as, "having a full mix, being able to throw all of my pitches and not have to think about it, not have to worry about it. That’s good to have that feeling out there."
Even on a good day there was a twist of the bizarre for Price, as a spectator that ran onto the field and slid into second base before being tackled to the ground by security actually helped end his outing one batter early.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora got Carson Smith going after Smoak homered to open the inning with an eye on having him pitch to Russell Martin, but he wasn’t ready after Kevin Pillar fouled out. By the time the fan was dragged off the field by police, Cora was able to make the change.
"It’s not that I wasn’t comfortable with David against Russell but I thought it was a good outing, if he gets on base and someone hits a homer or something, all of a sudden it’s like he struggled and he didn’t," explained Cora. "Probably he’s not happy with the outing, but for me, changing speeds, using the breaking ball, using elevated fastballs that was good to see. And he competed. That’s all we want for him."
Said Price: "I can’t recall another time I’ve been on the mound with someone running out. That’s all right. … I was ready to pitch but that stuff happens. You’ve got to be able to roll with it."
The Red Sox made his outing work against Marco Estrada, who still regularly wears the team and player name and number crested bathrobe Price bought for all the Blue Jays soon after his July 30 acquisition from Detroit for left-handers Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Jairo Labourt.
Looking to build off of six shutout innings at Tampa last weekend, Estrada worked almost exclusively with his fastball and changeup, mixing in five curveballs and three cutters within his 103 pitches over six innings. The changeup was effective for him, generating nine of his 12 swinging strikes, but consecutive doubles by Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi to open the scoring in the third both came on changes. Hanley Ramirez then knocked a four-seamer over the wall in left to open a 3-0 edge.
Estrada kept things there until the sixth when a Xander Bogaerts double and Rafael Devers single opened up a 4-1 edge. He finished with a pitching line – four runs on seven hits and a walk with five strikeouts in six innings – that wasn’t a fair indicator of how he pitched.
"He’s got a bunch of weapons with the curveball and the cutter, too, and he throws it all but you know his bread and butter is his fastball and changeup," said Betts. "He’s hard to hit, so you’re just trying to hit a good pitch versus eliminating one and trying to hit the other, because he’ll throw of one without even thinking about it."
Price, on the other hand, got the bounceback he wanted after allowing nine runs, seven earned, in 3.2 innings at Texas before the numbness in his hand became an issue and the corresponding drama ensued. A strong season opens up options for Price, who can opt out of the remaining four years and $127 million on his contract in the fall.
Hard-edged Boston and laid-back Price never seemed like a natural match and the friction of the past two-and-a-half years can be attributable, in part, to that. The unforgettable run with the Blue Jays – he went 9-1 in 11 starts while the team ran off a 41-18 finish – is an increasingly distant memory.
"It’s always a place I’ve enjoyed pitching in," he replied when asked what he feels pitching in Toronto now. "I enjoy the mound, the atmosphere. I don’t think anybody is ever excited to pitch against the Blue Jays, they always swing it really well. But I like the mound, it’s a place I feel comfortable pitching in and I look forward to it every time I get the ball here."
Still, a guarantee nine-figure payout to a pitcher who’ll turn 34 in Aug. 26, 2019 is a lot of cake to walk away from, which is why the two sides may be struck together. If that’s how things play out, he’s best to remember the words he used to keep posted in his Blue Jays locker: "If you don’t like it, pitch better."