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Viewpoint Just another familiar October start for David Price

October 7, 2018

BOSTON — Two lasting images were seared on this 2018 American League Division Series Saturday night at Fenway Park. Two images that screamed of David Price’s postseason impotence and the frightening power of the Yankees.

The first was a magnificent work of photography by Paul Rutherford of USA Today. With one out in the first inning. Aaron Judge was barely completing his swing and Price already had thrown up his head, his eyes closed, his face in a horrible grimace. Click. Price didn’t bother looking behind him. He knew the twin truths. That ball was lost, and he is one of the worst starting pitchers in major league postseason history.

Price had left a 90-mph back-door cutter over the middle of the plate and when the ball finally landed it found the corner of the Monster seats closest to center field, a spot you don’t see many home runs land. But this is Judge. He hits balls to places few men can and this one would travel 445 feet.

Life is not always a snapshot. Sometimes it is rolling video. The second image arrived in the seventh inning with Judge on third base and Giancarlo Stanton on first. The Red Sox bullpen, such a source of anxiety Friday night, had been spotless after Price was pulled in the second. That’s when Gary Sanchez leaned into Eduardo Rodriguez’s 2-1 pitch for his second home run of the night.

Sanchez watched the ball as it went toward the same area as Judge’s home run. Only no Monster seats were going to catch this one. With Sanchez admiring its majesty, the ball struck the light stanchion, dwarfed even Judge’s blast and landed 479 feet away somewhere on Lansdowne Street. It was the longest home run of his career and the longest hit at Fenway during the StatCast Era.

Sanchez held up his bat. And then he simply dropped it.

Except for some Yankees cheers, yes, it was quiet enough in Fenway to hear a bat drop.

Final: Yankees 6, Red Sox 2.

“Everyone knows Judge has way more power than me,” Sanchez said. “But a homer is a homer.”

The best-of-five series is tied at one heading to Yankee Stadium. When the teams arrive there, don’t be shocked if a plaque of Price isn’t already out there in Monument Park. Sure, he plays for the other team, but he has been the Yankees MVP this year. Just kidding. After the two more home runs in only 1 2/3 innings, he now has allowed 11 to the Yankees in 2018. No team has hit more home runs off a pitcher in the last decade. That’s not a joke.

“Location,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said when asked about Price. “It’s all about location.”

And now one must wonder if Price’s location will be out of the bullpen, where he was effective last October. For a man in the midst of a $217 million contract, that would be a slap in the face and Cora gave a split answer afterward. He said there will be talk about using Price, who threw only 42 pitches, in relief in this series, but would not consider keeping him there throughout the entire playoffs — if the Red Sox advance.

“No, no,” Cora said. “He’s one of our starters. Just a bad outing. We trust him. He has bounced back before.”

Price faced 10 batters. He got five outs. It got messy in the second. Sanchez has seven hits in 14 career at-bats against Price. Six are home runs. This time he extended out over the plate and drove a Price cutter into the second row of the Monster Seats.

With two outs Price, walked Gleyber Torres and Brett Gardner, who may well have gotten away with a third strike. Andrew McCutcheon’s RBI single off a Price fastball was enough for Cora. He had to get Price out of there before Judge hit his next pitch to New Hampshire.

Price left with the boos of Fenway ringing in his ears.

Asked Friday about his post-season woes, Price said, “I can’t really put my finger on it.”

Others can. As a starting pitcher, he stinks in October.

“My spirits aren’t down,” Price said. “My confident isn’t down. I’m looking forward to getting another opportunity. I didn’t execute enough pitches. That was that.”

He is now 0-9 in 10 post season starts with a 6.03 earned run average. He does have a pair of relief wins. Here’s the stat that tells it better than any: A total of 70 major league pitchers have had 10 or more postseason starts. Price is the only one without a victory.

Before the game, Cora emphasized the importance of going up 2-0 on the Yankees. They are 7-0 in in the postseason at Yankee Stadium in the past two years.

“Very important,” said Cora, a bench coach with the World Series champion Houston Astros in 2017. “They haven’t lost a playoff game in a while there. They swept the Astros there last year. It’s a tough place to play. Last year, that place was alive. We played four-hour games and from the get-go it was loud.”

That doesn’t mean they are unbeatable in the Bronx, of course. The sporting world watched as the Red Sox erased a 3-0 series deficit in 2004 that culminated with unforgettable Game 6 and 7 victories at Yankee Stadium. Then again, that was 2004.

So much had been made of Game 1 starter J.A. Happ’s 1.99 ERA this year against the Red Sox this year and his 8-4 career mark. The Red Sox knocked him around for five runs in two-plus innings. Conversely, Tanaka was smacked around for 16 earned runs in 19 innings in four starts against the Red Sox in 2018. So what happens? He returned to his career October form. His 1.50 postseason ERA (3-2 record) is fifth lowest in major league history among pitchers with at least five starts. Until Xander Bogaerts leaned into 90 mph fastball in the fouth and drove it into the centerfield seats, Tanaka was just about perfect. That’s baseball, Suzyn. You never know.

Still, two matters must make the Red Sox worry if this was their last game at Fenway.

One is the Yankee bullpen has allowed one run in 10 innings.

The other is the power of Judge, who has three homers in three postseason games. And Stanton. And Sanchez, who had been so derided for his catching and his .183 batting average during an injury riddled season. After going 0-for-6 in the wildcard and Game 1 in Boston, boom! The only other catcher in Yankee history to have two homers in a post season game? Yogi Berra.

“I definitely didn’t know that,” Sanchez said. “It’s an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as him. It was a rough season for me, it was a tough one. But I stayed positive throughout.”

Sanchez could have dropped the mike there, but he already had dropped his bat.

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