BOSTON — It’s the recurring nightmare that haunts him every time he faces them, particularly this time of year, demons torturing his soul, leaving him bewildered and disoriented.
Boston Red Sox starter David Price, the richest player in franchise history, walked off the mound Sunday night in front of a sellout crowd at Fenway Park, utterly humiliated and loudly booed each step he took toward the dugout, into the clubhouse, and as he disappeared.
The unforgiving Red Sox fans may have been hoping he’d keep on walking, to Logan Airport on his way out of town, never to be seen again.
At least not in October.
The Red Sox, 6-2 losers, are now tied at one game apiece with the New York Yankees in this best-of-five AL Division Series, but if they don’t recover, and their 108-victory season is wasted, guess who’s going to be vilified the entire winter?
Price, who has never won a postseason start in his career, and has been bloodied by the Yankees since he joined the Red Sox three years ago. He woke up knowing this was his chance at redemption, truly believing this would be his night.
It took 10 pitches for that feeling to vanish. It was the moment Aaron Judge cracked a mammoth 445-foot homer that landed in the top row of the Green Monster. Price closed his eyes and screamed into the night before the ball even landed. Just like that, Judge became the first Yankee to homer in their first three postseason games of a season since Hank Bauer in 1958.
Price opened the second inning by giving up another homer to catcher Gary Sanchez, his seventh in 14 career at-bats against Price. The left-hander got two quick outs, but then walked the No. 8 and 9 hitters. Andrew McCutchen followed with a run-scoring single for a 3-0 deficit.
That was it.
Manager Alex Cora couldn’t stand to watch any longer.
Cora slowly walked to the mound, and boos filled the air. Those boos got louder and louder as Price left the mound, with the Red Sox obituary being written with every step.
Price’s postseason epitaph: 10 career starts, 0 victories, 8 defeats, 6.03 ERA.
David Price’s postseason misery continues in Game 2 of ALDS against Yankees
Aaron Judge hits towering home run off David Price in ALDS Game 2
The numbers are even more gruesome against the Yankees since signing his seven-year, $217 million contract three years ago: 12 starts, 7.95 ERA. He has lasted less than two innings just four times in his career, and three have been against the Yankees.
He has faced the Yankees five times this season and has given up 11 homers and 35 base runners in 17.1 innings, compared to 16 homers in 160 innings to everyone else.
He threw 42 pitches in this game, facing 10 batters, and retired only five of them. He gave up two homers, two walks, a single, and never recorded a strikeout.
Price, of course, would be available to pitch again in the series considering his workload barely qualified for more than a bullpen session between starts. Yet, considering the way the Yankees have manhandled Price, Cora wouldn’t dare tempt fate, would he?
“If I lose the entire playoffs and we win a World Series,’’ Price said Friday, “I’ll take that. That’s what I’m here for. I don’t want this to be about me and not winning.
“That’s what I worry about.”
Yet, he knows what this means. He was a 16-game winner in the regular season, but if the Red Sox season ends early, all that will be remembered is October.
“I could go 35-0 in the regular season with a zero [ERA] and it wouldn’t matter,’’ Price said last month. “I need to win in October. That’s that. Regular season means nothing for me.’’
The Red Sox somehow need to survive this series for Price to pitch again in 2018, and perhaps then, and only then, normalcy can return and Price can revert to greatness.
After all, he was dominant since the All-Star break — 6-1 with a 2.25 ERA in his final 11 regular-season starts. It’s just that against the Yankees, every baseball he throws looks like over-inflated beach balls. He is 0-4 with a 10.90 ERA when facing the Yankees this season.
Price now will be left resting up for his next start in the ALCS, or perhaps all winter, when the Red Sox report to Fort Myers, Fla., for spring training.
It’s possible, of course, that Price has thrown his last pitch for the Red Sox. He could walk away from a fanbase that doesn’t want him, and exercise his opt-out clause. Yet, as miserable as it may be during times like this in Boston, he still has four years and $127 million left in his deal.
The Red Sox can’t worry about that now. They’ve got a division series to win. Only now, the series returns to Yankee Stadium, which promises to be loud, boisterous, and unruly, and not just in the bleachers.
“We feel like we get a really big boost at home just based on our fans and our ballpark,’’ Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I think our guys walk out there probably with a little bit of extra swagger when they take the field there.’’
You don’t have to convince Cora, who saw it first-hand last year as the Houston Astros bench coach when the Yankees took the Astros to seven games in the ALCS.
“They haven’t lost a playoff game in a while there,’’ Cora said, “so it’s a tough place to play. Last year, that place was alive, the fan base. From the get-go, it was loud.
“I know the rivalry and everything. We played some games there, and it’s been loud. But nothing like the way it’s going to be on Monday.’’
The Red Sox are bracing themselves for a torrent of boos, with the exception of one player.
He’s liable to get a hero’s welcome.
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