BOSTON ó According to standard baseball measurements, David Price did not pitch well on Sunday night. The former Ray gave up four runs in fewer than five innings, handed back a lead that his Boston Red Sox teammates had given him in the first inning and was removed from Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros after he had allowed two batters to reach base in the top of the fifth.
Yet when Price walked off the mound with the Red Sox clinging to a one-run lead, nearly all of the 37,960 fans at Fenway Park stood and cheered for him.
The acclaim was not a salute for a brilliant performance by Price, for it was not that at all. Instead, it was in recognition of the fact that while Price, an 11th-year major league veteran, would not quite get his first postseason victory as a starting pitcher, he had done just enough to help the Red Sox beat the Astros, 7-5, and tie the ALCS at one game apiece. For Red Sox fans, who had feared the worst with Price on the mound and instead had watched him battle, it was worth cheering.
Price was not eligible for the victory because he did not last the five innings required by baseballís rules. Still, after losses in the 10 games that Price had started in the postseason for various clubs, his team, at least, finally came away a winner.
"We won," Price declared afterward. "Thatís my first team win as a starter. So, if itís baby steps, itís baby steps. I expect to win. But Iím very happy that we won."
With his team already down a game in the series, Red Sox manager Alex Cora gambled in Game 2 by starting the 33-year-old Price, who was 0-9 in 10 postseason starts dating to 2010, when he pitched for Tampa Bay. And just last week, Price failed to make it out of the second inning in Game 2 of Bostonís division series against the New York Yankees.
But Price, who does have two wins as a reliever in the postseason and who went 16-7 during the 2018 regular season, has pitched well over his career against the Astros. Beyond that, the Red Sox have concluded that in order to make it to the World Series, and win it, they need Price, a five-time All-Star, in the rotation.
"He gave his team a chance to win," Cora said after Game 2. After Price left the game, Cora coaxed the final 13 outs from his bullpen, including three from Rick Porcello, a starter.
Perhaps the biggest hero of the game for Boston was Jackie Bradley Jr., the outstanding center fielder whose sporadic offense keeps him at the bottom of the Red Sox lineup. With two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the third inning, and the Red Sox trailing, 4-2, Bradley banged a drive halfway up the Green Monster in left field for a three-run double that gave the Red Sox a 5-4 lead.
The Red Sox later tacked on two insurance runs and led, 7-4, going into the top of the ninth when Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel entered the game. Kimbrel, who was on the mound when the Yankees almost overcame a three-run deficit in the deciding Game 4 of the division series, put another scare into Red Sox fans on Sunday night before finally recording the save.
Kimbrel gave up a two-out double to George Springer, who then scored on a single by Jose Altuve. Alex Bregman then came to the plate, and the Astrosí No. 3 hitter lifted a high fly ball to deep left field ? just as Gary Sanchez of the Yankees had done against Kimbrel in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the division series with the bases loaded.
That ball was caught for the next-to-last out of the game, and the Red Sox survived. And in this instance, Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi drifted back toward the Green Monster and, with his left hand in touching distance of the wall, caught the drive for the final out.
Some excited Astros fans may have thought Bregman had gotten all of it, but he knew better.
"If I got it," Bregman said, "it would be on the street behind Fenway Park."
As for Price, he allowed four runs and five hits in his 4 2/3 innings of work and also walked four batters. He had some bad luck, too ? an infield grounder that turned into a costly single and a little flare to right field that drove in the first two of the four runs he surrendered.
When he could not get the final out of the fifth, Cora gave the ball to Matt Barnes, who struck out Marwin Gonzalez, pitched a scoreless sixth, and was awarded the win by the official scorer.
Price said he appreciated the standing ovation, and said his only concern was that the Red Sox win the game.
"I put myself aside," he said. "This isnít about me. I understand the narratives. I get that. I deserve those narratives. But this is bigger than David Price. This isnít about me, this is about the Boston Red Sox."
Price threw the first pitch of Game 2 and as he did so, it seemed as if every fan in the stands leaned forward to gauge the substance of the pitch, which turned out to be a 91-mph fastball to Springer that was called a ball. The next pitch was a strike, and the fans exhaled just a little bit in relief. When Springer popped up for the first out, they roared.
At times, Red Sox fans have been hard on Price, but on Sunday they put their vocal support fully behind him. He gave up the two soft runs in the second and then two much more emphatic ones in the third, courtesy of a mammoth home run by Gonzalez, who in the bottom of the inning would crash hard into the Green Monster trying, and failing, to catch a drive off the bat of Bostonís Steve Pearce.
Gonzalez slumped to the warning track after he hit the wall and stayed there for several minutes during a timeout, receiving medical attention from the Astrosí trainer. After a delay, Gonzalez stayed in the game.
When play resumed, with Red Sox runners on second and third, Astros starter Gerrit Cole walked Rafael Devers, setting the stage for Bradleyís double, which hit about halfway up the wall. Price then pitched a perfect fourth, and almost got through the fifth.
His winless streak as a postseason starter continues. But at least, now, he can say his team has won a postseason game he started. The jinx, perhaps, is starting to crumble.
"It wasnít the line I dreamed Iíd have tonight," Price said. "But our offense, our defense, everybody rallied together."