This story originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.
Marco Estrada had his moment Wednesday. Now it's time for David Price to have his.
He's had his, to be sure. Many, in fact. But to do it now, when so much has been made about his postseason struggles, and for a Blue Jays organization that's been waiting since 1993 for this chance, would be more than just a statement.
It'd be the difference between waiting until next season and playing a winner-take-all Game 7 for a shot to play the New York Mets in the World Series. That's what matters most, and that's what's at stake if Price gives the Blue Jays enough to force a deciding game.
There was a brief moment Wednesday when it wasn't entirely sure whether he'd get that opportunity. Not because of the Blue Jays' chances of winning, but rather the consideration of the manager to summon his ace from the bullpen if the Royals began to threaten in a do-or-die Game 5.
As Estrada was in the midst of dealing and working with a five-run lead in the seventh after Troy Tulowitzki once again came through with a big hit in the clutch, there was Price—a few hundred metres away—warming up in the bullpen. Toronto's lead may have appeared comfortable to the masses, but John Gibbons wasn't about to take any chances. He turned to his ace with the Blue Jays up six runs in an elimination game in the ALDS, and was prepared to do it again. It was a here-we-go-again moment. But it never came to fruition.
If Price entered, the Blue Jays may have turned to Marcus Stroman on short rest for Game 6 back at Kauffman Stadium. It wouldn't have been an ideal scenario. It didn't matter in the end, though.
Now, Price, the potential Cy Young winner who was acquired to pitch in the Blue Jays' biggest games of the season, will do exactly that. The left-handed rental will take the ball Friday night in a must-win game. Lose, and it's all over, including, perhaps, Price's tenure in Toronto.
The other possible outcome, however, is much sweeter for the superstar, the Blue Jays, and their rabid fan base, which once again filled up an electric Rogers Centre for what could have been the last home game of the season.
Price has a chance to change the narrative about his ability in the postseason and save the Blue Jays' season in the process.
You've surely heard it all by now. Price, one of baseball's best pitchers, continually comes up short when it matters most, having never won any of the seven playoff games he's started. Including stints out of the bullpen, his postseason ERA across a span of 56 2/3 innings is 5.24. Regardless of how just the criticism levied his way is, he would simply tell you: if you don't like it, pitch better. It's a sign plastered in his locker, one he can't avoid seeing any time he puts on and takes off his uniform.
He's provided the naysayers with more ammunition this postseason by struggling in Game 1 of the ALDS, a Blue Jays loss, then doing so again when he relieved R.A. Dickey and allowed three runs over as many innings while staked with a six-run lead.
Then came his first start of the ALCS. He pitched brilliantly, as he had throughout the regular season for both the Tigers and Blue Jays, for six frames before the inning spiraled out of control. It started out innocently enough when miscommunication led to a ball dropping between Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista to snap a run of 18 straight batters retired by Price—a Blue Jays postseason record. A few more hits followed, and it ended with Price walking off the mound trailing the very same inning he began with a three-run lead. The Blue Jays appeared poised to even the series behind a dominant Price, but instead came back to Toronto down 2-0.
Price's one rough inning overshadowed an otherwise sensational outing, but still provided the skeptics with another bullet. Pitchers like Price are supposed to excel on the big stage and be the difference between winning and going home. That's why two guaranteed months of them costs a highly-regarded youngster like Daniel Norris-plus.
Price, however, hasn't done that for the Blue Jays this postseason, and he's struggled to do it before, too. But it's not like he hasn't—like in Game 3 of the 2014 ALDS when he fired eight innings of two-run ball against the Orioles—and it's not like he isn't one of the premier pitchers in the game. He proved that, yet again, during the regular season. Price was his usually tremendous self with the Tigers, and then even more dominating with the Blue Jays and a primary factor why Toronto captured the AL East.
He went 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 11 starts with Toronto. He struck out 10.53 batters per nine innings over those 74 1/3 frames—a rate he's never reached in any season before—to finish off the year with a career-best 6.4 WAR. In the postseason, though, everything is magnified. Small samples produce narratives—just ask Clayton Kershaw—and suddenly the best in the game, regardless of their accomplishments and track record, have something to prove.
For Price, it's that he's capable on this stage. It's to remind everyone that he's the best pitcher in this series, which he undeniably is. There should be no other pitcher the Blue Jays want in this spot than the five-time All-Star who will be standing 60 feet, 6 inches away when leadoff man Alcides Escobar comes to the plate in the bottom of the first inning Friday night.
Price has been given a chance to silence the doubters who, based on a small sample of seven playoff starts and 13 appearances, proclaim he's unable to deliver on the big stage. More importantly, though, he's been handed an opportunity to inch the Blue Jays one game closer to a World Series appearance.