After shutting down the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the World Series, David Price said he "hold[s] all the cards now, and that feels pretty good." For years, Price has been one of the better starters in the regular season, but maligned as a guy who simply could not get it done in the postseason. His teams had lost ten straight games he started, a streak that he only snapped this year against the Astros in the ALCS.
Sports narratives are generally not something you should ever take seriously, especially when you factor in something as unpredictable as the MLB playoffs. But sports narratives also always take hold, and this one had a firm grip on Price, so much so that even when he pitched fairly well, he could never shake it.
He was a big weapon for Tampa Bay out of the bullpen during his rookie year in 2008, the only time the Rays made the World Series. Then he had mixed results from 2010-2014 over four playoff trips with the Rays and Tigers, putting up an assortment of bad, mediocre, and lights-out performances. Then he became a hired gun for another playoff run.
When the Blue Jays traded for Price in 2015, days after swinging a blockbuster deal for Troy Tulowitzki, he was looked at as the final piece to put them over the top. And in many senses he was. Toronto went on a tear with an utterly dominant Price anchoring the rotation, closing out the regular season on a 39-17 run from the time he made his debut. Toronto would go on to win the AL East, capturing its first playoff berth since 1993, and went into the playoffs with a new ace, supported by the best offense in baseball led by eventual MVP Josh Donaldson. They looked like the most feared team in the AL.
Price gave up five runs in two of his three postseason starts, ended up being used in relief in Game 4 of the ALDS instead of being saved for a potential do-or-die Game 5 vs. the Rangers (a decision made by John Gibbons that seems a lot more normal now based on how teams deploy their pitchers in the postseason), and then let up another five runs in his first ALCS start. He got the ball for an elimination Game 6, threw well over 6.2 innings but the Royals defeated the Blue Jays before winning the World Series. Price wasn't regular-season Price but he wasn't as awful as many would have you believe, striking out 23 and walking three over four playoff appearances with the Blue Jays.
Price was a beast for Toronto, but the postseason results told another story and kept this narrative intact as he entered the 2016 season with the Red Sox after signing a massive $217 million, seven-year deal.
He was torched in his first playoff start with the Red Sox in 2016, and then used in relief in two postseason appearances the following year, still being unable to shake the perception that he can't perform in October.
Then all of a sudden, the narrative went up in smoke. Price started Game 5 for the Sox in Houston on short rest and threw six shutout innings and struck out nine to clinch a spot in the World Series. He threw another six innings for a 4-2 win in Game 2 of the World Series. Then last night, he shut the Dodgers down: seven innings, and only three hits and two walks. In two weeks, he went from his team never winning a playoff game he started, to his team winning the two most important playoff games possible: decisive games for the pennant, and the World Series.
After the game, Price was absolutely feeling himself, and there's no blaming him. He's dealt with a lot of shit—especially after struggling in Boston—gotten into spats with the media and even Dennis Eckersley, all because of this one narrative. At the end of last night, he reveled in his change of fortune.
"To answer that question [about his postseason struggles] in spring training, and day in, day out, over and over and over and over," Price said. "I hold all the cards now. That feels so good. That feels so good. I can't tell you how good it feels to hold that trump card. You guys have had it for a long time. You've played that card extremely well. But you don't have it anymore. None of you do. And that feels really good."
Good for David Price. Redemption is always a satisfying theme, even more so when what requires redeeming is something that's been unfairly thrown on top of you. Baseball is full of small sample sizes, and hot teams, and the Steve Pearces of the world going absolutely crazy for one week. It's hard to build any narrative around that, but it always happens. There's always someone caught in the clutch crosshairs. And if Clayton Kershaw was feeling particularly weighed upon last night, hopefully he took a minute to catch a glimpse of David Price smiling, holding the World Series trophy.