David Price leads Red Sox to top of AL East

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Prior to the game, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell said he was looking for ace pitcher David Price to “lead the way” as the Sox enter the final leg of an 11-game, four-city road trip. Facing the Tampa Bay Rays, the organization that drafted Price first overall in 2007, the lefty did just that, leading his new club to a 6-2 win and into a tie for first in the American League East.

Entering the game, Price was 0-3 with a 3.98 ERA as a visitor to his former home, Tropicana Field, in three starts. He was dominant in this one, tossing eight shutout innings with eight strikeouts. He walked two and allowed just two singles. It was the ninth time this season that Price, the league leader in innings (177 2/3), worked eight or more innings in a start.

“That’s a tough team for me to pitch against, it doesn’t matter if it’s here or on the road,” said the 2012 Cy Young Award winner.

Once upon a time, Price was a fireballing southpaw with a big arm and little control. Playing that role these days for the Rays is prized prospect Blake Snell. Snell was unable to complete the fourth inning after surrendering two runs. Most of the damage was self-inflicted as five walks pushed his pitch count into the mid-90s after just 11 outs. Boston’s league-leading offense would add four more runs against the Rays’ bullpen — including Xander Bogaerts‘ 15th home run of the season — but the story was Price.

Price, who will turn 31 on Friday, has come a long way since his wild rookie season of 2009. These days, the fastball is more low-to-mid 90s. The once vaunted slider has been replaced by an array of other offerings. The location issues of the past? Those have been replaced with an elite GPS system.

In the 2008 American League Championship Series, Price finished off the Red Sox with a large feast of fastballs. He chose a lighter diet for his former team on Monday, recording 12 of his 21 outs with a changeup. As he worked into the eighth inning, his fastball sat around 91 mph.

Farrell said being able to pitch without his best velocity is what makes Price so good. “He knows how to win on nights when he maybe doesn’t have his best power. That was tonight,” Farrell said.

Price nearly lost his shutout in that inning after a deep drive by Steven Souza off a changeup almost cleared the short wall in left field. But Andrew Benintendi cleared the wall and made the HR-saving catch. The rookie left fielder, who began the game in center and moved to left at the start of the inning, used the advantage of being a left-handed thrower by reaching back with his right arm and grabbing the ball.

“The fact that he’s a left-handed thrower probably gives him a chance to extend even further over the wall to make a spectacular catch,” said Farrell.

The seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft, Benintendi temporarily balanced on top of the wall, pivoting on his waist, before returning to the field of play with the ball and preserving the shutout at the time.

“I thought my first step was good. I knew I was probably going to have to jump at some point and chose the right time.” Benintendi said of the play, which might be the catch of the year thus far. “I think that’s the best catch I’ve ever made.”

Seattle Mariners closer Danny Farquhar, Boston pushed across three runs (one earned) on three hits. The back-breaker coming off the bat of Boegarts, whose home run to left-field traveled 399 feet.

Although David Ortiz grounded out in the ninth, he belted his 40th double of the season in the first inning. Ortiz crushed the 0-1 offering from Snell 412 feet to the base of the center-field wall. The ball left the bat with an exit velocity of 109 mph. The double was Ortiz’s 23rd at Tropicana Field — the most of any visitor. More importantly, it was also the 624th double of his career, tying him with Hank Aaron for 10th all time.

When asked about seeing his name amongst some of the games greats, Ortiz said, “it feels good, man” before joking “also, it means your getting old too.”

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