The smart executives in MLB know it’s best not to pay players for past performance. The horse is already out of the barn, as the whimsical logic contends.
You pay them because you trust them to perform into the future. You pray, but you trust.
So at the altar of David Price, Red Sox Nation solemnly knelt last Thursday night when the lefthander, who Dave Dombrowski gave seven years and $217 million to before the 2015 season, took the mound for Game 5 of the ALCS against the Houston Astros.
You might remember what Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said about Price the day the ink dried:
“This is a great day for the Red Sox. When we first talked to Dave [Dombrowski] in August about improving the team, the first person he mentioned was David Price, Not just because of his talents on the field, but what everyone in baseball knows about David. He’s a leader, has an extraordinary work ethic. He’ll not only be a leader for the pitching staff, but for all of us.”
The Red Sox paid Price for past performance.
They paid the guy who won the Cy Young in 2012, a pair of ERA titles in 2012 and 2015 and led the AL in strikeouts in 2015.
The paid the guy who helped the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Sox in the 2008 ALCS by closing things out with 1 1/3 stellar innings in Game 7.
They paid the guy whose career ERA in the AL East had been 3.15 with a 49-21 record.
They paid the guy who had been 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 11 career regular-season starts at Fenway.
But before Thursday rolled along, the Sox were also aware they paid the guy who entered this ALCS 0-9 in 11 previous postseason starts with a 6.16 ERA. In those games, his teams were 1-10.
They paid the guy who already pitched twice in the postseason, took Boston’s only loss in the ALCS and was smacked around for four runs in less than five innings in Game 2 against the Astros, the defending World Series champion.
They paid the guy who started the 2017 on the DL with an elbow injury and in late June got into a verbal tussle with Sox broadcaster Dennis Eckersley on a team plane after the Hall of Fame pitcher had criticized a performance by Eduardo Rodriguez.
And they paid a guy who went on the DL again on May 9 with an elbow injury widely attributed to his excessive use of video games.
But you know what, the Red Sox are likely thinking today that every penny was worth it.
On Thursday, pressed into service after scheduled starter Chris Sale could not go because of a stomach ailment that has hospitalized him last Sunday, Price pitched the game of his Red Sox career.
And now Boston is off to its 14th World Series, hoping to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and win its fourth title since The Curse of the Bambino ended in 2004, the final out in the glove of Doug Mientkiewicz.
On three days’ rest for the first time in a decade, with cynics expecting the worst, Price pitched six innings and 93 pitches. He allowed only three hits. He struck out nine and walked no one. And it got it going quickly, fanning a pair in the first inning.
“It’s one of the most special days I’ve ever had on the baseball field,” he said.
The team that started the season winning 17 of its first 19 and ended it with a franchise-best 108, got the one they needed to validate it all from the guy they gave the money to and then hoped it would all turn out for the best.
They paid the guy $217 million. And the price was right.