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David Price vs the Yankees – What Needs to Happen

One game in a 162 game schedule is generally considered to be meaningless.  The importance of that one game becomes more magnified when it against a division opponent, but it again is only one of nineteen games against that opponent.  It becomes magnified even greater when that opponent in your long-time rival and your direct competitor for the divisional title.

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With the Red Sox in a statistical tie with the Yankees heading into a three game series in the Bronx this weekend, each one of these games takes on far greater significance.  The way things are shaping up this season, these two American League East behemoths are each on pace to win over 100 games.  But only one can take the AL East crown, with the other relegated to Wild Card status and the dreaded one-game “play-in”, where anything can happen and a stellar season can be over before the paint on the MLB Playoff Logo dries on the turf behind home plate.

While these games have increased importance to the Red Sox and Yankees, the series is absolutely essential for Red Sox starting pitcher David Price.  Price lasted only one inning in his first start against the Yankees in early April, exiting after allowing four runs and citing numbness in his hand as an excuse for not remaining in the game. 

In May, after losing three straight games and seeing his record drop to 2-4 with a 5.11 ERA, Price missed a start in Yankee stadium due to a re-occurrence of numbness which was later diagnosed as a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome, likely brought on by excessive video game playing.  Whether deserved or not, Red Sox fans deemed Price as “soft” and alleged he was afraid to face the powerful Yankee lineup.

Since missing the start against the Yankees in May, Price has returned to All-Star form, going 7-1 with a 2.72 ERA.  He has been dominant at times, and has pitched at least six innings in seven of nine starts, including one complete game.  While Price may not be worth the $30 million dolor salary he is being paid, he has been a solid number two pitcher behind Chris Sale.

Has this string of pitching excellence won over the hearts of Red Sox fans?  Hardly, and much of that is Price’s own doing.  Price continues to make flippant comments to the media concerning being soft or missing starts, most recently after another strong performance against the Angels on Tuesday night.  When asked if he was looking forward to his next start against the Yankees, Price wryly said “I don’t think I’ll be able to go, I don’t think so.”  When the reporter probed further and simply asked “Fortnite?”, Price snorted and replied “Yeah, Fortnite.” And then walked away.  This follows prior comments in which Price claimed he didn’t want to pitch in the All-Star Game if selected, and would “play a lot of Fortnite” so he wouldn’t be able to pitch.

Price may be attempting to make light of the situation, or he may just be a major diva who can’t handle criticism.  If it is the former, it isn’t working.  Price does not have the charisma or the cache with Red Sox fans to get away with such comments. 

If it is the latter, Red Sox fans can tolerate Price’s antics as long as he delivers on the mound.  Red Sox fans not only tolerated but revered Roger Clemens for many years despite his diva persona, and only turned on Clemens when his performance began to slip.  But while Clemens may have been a diva, his desire to get the ball in big games was never in doubt.  And this is where Price needs to step up, and why his next start against the Yankees is so important.

Further adding to the drama is the fact that Price will not pitch until the final game of the series.  The Red Sox will send Eduardo Rodriguez to the mound in Game 1, followed by Sale in Game 2.  If the Red Sox should lose both games, the pressure on Price to deliver and salvage the finale will be even greater. 

Price does not need to pitch a complete game shutout against the Yankees on Sunday night.  He does not need to be credited with a win.  He really doesn’t even need to pitch well.  What he does need to do is take the ball for his turn and simply pitch.  Price cannot afford another instance of numbness, allergy flare-up, or any other affliction which would get him out of the game.  

If Price pitches well on Sunday night, that’s great.  If he gets lit up, he needs to stay in the game and show Red Sox fans that he is willing to battle until Alex Cora comes out to the mound and takes the ball from his hand.  Anything short of that and Price will be the main topic of conversation on Boston sports radio and podcasts on Monday morning and likely until the Red Sox face the Yankees again in August.

Nothing short of a playoff series win or two will ever place Price in the hearts of Red Sox fans.  But Price taking the mound, and possibly taking his lumps, against the Yankees, can go a long way toward mending fences with the fans.  And if he can accomplish that, then maybe, just maybe, we will laugh at his post-game comments.

Other Red Sox Thoughts

Who’s Trending Up

Last week, Mitch Moreland found himself on the trending down list.  He turned that trend around in a hurry over the past week, batting .435 over six games last week.  Moreland also knocked out four extra base hits, including triples on consecutive nights over the weekend against Seattle.  Moreland accounted for 13 runs with eight runs scored and five batted in.

While technically not trending up because he has been extremely consistent all season, J.D. Martinez had yet another stellar week.  Martinez batted .423 against Minnesota and Seattle with four extra base hits of his own, knocked in five runs and scored seven of his own.

Chris Sale had two starts against Minnesota and Seattle, and both were the vintage Sale performances Red Sox fans have come to expect from the lanky left-hander.  Sale pitched seven strong innings in each outing, posting a 1.29 ERA and striking out 24.

Who’s Trending Down

Like Mitch Moreland, Andrew Benintendi also reversed his trending status from last week.  Unfortunately for Benintendi, last week he was trending up.  This week, he finds himself on the down side, batting only .200 last week.

Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_BSoT. 

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