One of the great things about baseball — and really, where does one start the list — is that it provides daily opportunities for redemption. Imagine if life was that generous.
We were thinking about this Wednesday while watching Red Sox starter David Price rewrite his narrative by providing the AL champs a six-inning kick-start to their Game 2 win.
Prior to the start of Boston’s ALDS series against the Yankees, Price’s reputation was that of a problematic postseason pushover. He’d never won a playoff start. His postseason ERA had soared over 5.00. The Yankee Stadium crowd gave him a sarcastic standing ovation after he lasted only five outs at Fenway Park in Game 2.
Making matters worse was the plumpness of his bank account. Dave Dombrowski, the Sox president of baseball operations since 2015, gave the lefthander a seven-year, $217 million deal. The quickest way to get a Townie to chug his Narragansett is watching a millionaire get shelled in the playoffs.
And now look where he stands. Beginning with his Game 5 gem against the Astros in the ALCS, Price has won his last two starts, allowing only three hits in each of them.
As the Series moves to Hollywood for Game 3 on Friday, if would be fair to assume the Sox consider him the ace of their rotation. You always go with the hot hand.
During one of the interviews he granted before Game 2, Price was honest about what beating the Astros meant to him.
“It’s not like food tastes better or anything like that. But it was time,” said Price. “And I’m definitely glad that the time came and we moved past it. And I look forward to doing the same thing tomorrow.”
As to why Price suddenly looks like himself again, it’s been suggested it’s because he’s more reliant on his slider to compliment his fastball, still his go-to pitch. The same discussion was had on Monday about Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw, now that some of the juice has seeped from their fastballs.
The numbers gleaned from Tuesday’s start support this: Price threw 25 change-ups among his 88 pitchers and that was enough to keep the Dodgers bats off-balance.
Analytics update: Only three Red Sox pitchers ever have had consecutive postseason starts working at least six innings and allowing three hits or less – Jim Lonborg (Miracle Sox of 1967) and Derek Lowe (Miracle Sox of 2004).
If the Series gets back to Boston, it’s a good bet Red Sox fans will now be counting on Price’s assistance to provide yet another marvel.
“I get it, the numbers and all that, but this guy is a great pitcher,” said Sox manager Alex Cora. “He’s been one of the best pitchers in the big leagues for a while, and he cares. … On a personal note, I’m very proud of him,”
Another Martinez Earns Boston’s Affection
You’ll recall how difficult last winter was for many of baseball’s top free agents. Many were left optionless as Spring Training began. They even convened in Florida to stay in shape waiting for something – anything – worth signing for.
J.D. Martinez had to wait, too, even though he’d hit 45 homers with 104 RBIs in 119 games with the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks last season.
But faced with the task of muscling-up his lineup after the ascent of Aaron Judge in The Bronx, Dombrowski offered Martinez a five-year deal for $110 million in February.
Alex Cora inserted him as Boston’s designated hitter and then watched him fly – or don’t you think hitting .330 with 43 home runs and an MLB-best 130 RBIs constitutes soaring?
In some ways, the Red Sox were lucky to get Martinez; pulling the reins on spending took many potential competing offers off the table. The Yankees traded for Giancarlo Stanton. The San Francisco Giants took Evan Longoria off Tampa’s hands.
And the signing comes with calculated risk. Martinez can opt out after the 2019 and 2020 seasons and it’s reasonable to think he might if he can replicate his production.
Not that the Red Sox care right now. Martinez is to the 2018 team what Manny Ramirez and Big Papi were to Boston’s three other AL champs since 2004. He’s a clutch hitter, a fearsome task for a pitcher to deal with.
It was Martinez who drove home the two runs off reliever Ryan Madson in the fifth inning that provided the cushion for Boston’s win.
This wasn’t classic Martinez, in the power ball sense. The Sox were poking away at Hyun-Jin Ryu, who retired the first two hitters in the inning. Then Boston loaded the bases. Christian Vazquez singled. Mookie Betts singled. Andrew Benintendi walked.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts gave the ball to Madson, who had whiffed Martinez on Monday.
The normally dependable righthander walked Steve Pearce, forcing the run that tied the score. Martinez then floated a 1-0 pitch down in front of a charging Yasiel Puig in right to plate another two.
“It wasn’t a bad pitch. It was a good pitch,” said Martinez. “I was just fortunate enough to stay inside of it and dump it in.”
Martinez is now hitting .333 in the postseason. That’s money in the bank. And now you can expect him to move to the outfield beginning in Game 3 since there is no DH in NL parks. Betts, who loves playing second base, will be playing the role of Jerry Remy.
Too Much Strategy Costing Dodgers
Roberts will never be accused of being the only MLB manager to become overly reliant on platooning.
History says George Stallings, the manager of the 1914 Boston Braves, was the first to utilize it. The Braves were 15 games out of first on July 4, ended up winning the NL pennant by 10 ½ games and then beat Connie Mack and the Philadelphia A’s in the World Series.
Managers quickly took note.
So with lefthanders Sale and Price starting Games 1 and 2, Roberts has done what he has since in April. He used a right-handed hitting lineup. In fact, there were all righties in the lineup against Sale and Price and that had never happened even once before in World Series history.
That meant Brian Dozier, David Freese, Kiki Hernandez, Puig and Matt Kemp were in the lineup and Max Muncy, Yasmani Grandal, Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson were not.
Listen to this: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Dodgers became the first team in MLB history to start a World Series with all four of their top homerun hitters on the bench.
“It’s hard to have guys that slug like Pederson, Muncy, Bellinger on the bench,” said Roberts. “But this is something that we’ve done a lot in September and throughout the postseason, and it’s proven to be successful. And those guys are still getting in games and staying current. When guys are in there, they’ve just got to be productive.”
Now down 0-2, you’ve got to wonder if being stubborn has been worth the risk? Classic second guess, certainly.
With righty Rick Porcello set to the start Game 3 on Friday, the lefty contingent will reappear. But will it be too late to save the Dodgers?
Muncy, who hit 35 homers this season, and Bellinger, the MVP of the NLCS, each have had only three plate appearances in the first two games.
In Game 1, the Dodgers were 1-of-7 with runners in scoring position. In Game 2, their last 16 hitters went down in order. Hernandez is 0-for-6 with three strikeouts. Dozier is 0-for-4.
“They’ll [the lefties will] definitely be excited to get in there and get a start,” said Chris Taylor, one of the right-handed bats. “I know they’re hungry for at-bats.”