NEW YORK — As much as any player in the Boston Red Sox clubhouse, David Price needed a dose of postgame revelry here Tuesday night.
Price took leave of the team last weekend to attend the funeral of one of his best friends, Terry Wanthalangsy, in their hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Wanthalangsy, 30, died from complications due to brain cancer, leaving behind a wife and young son. And while the Red Sox swept the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field to extend their winning streak to 11 games, their ace lefty grieved alongside family and friends.
It was with a heavy heart then that Price took the mound at Yankee Stadium with a chance to deliver the Sox their first American League East title since 2013 and the customary champagne shower that goes with it. Instead, he was left in the game by manager John Farrell to give up six runs on 12 hits, including three home runs, in a 6-4 loss to the New York Yankees, his worst start in two months.
Hold the celebration.
Keep the bubbly on ice.
“It was a tough couple of days, but I was with friends and family and that’s my foundation,” Price said. “Nothing had a factor on what happened tonight, for sure. To have a chance to clinch the division for us here, it’s unacceptable. If our offense scores four runs, I feel like I should be able to win.”
The Red Sox had a chance in the top of the ninth. But retiring slugger David Ortiz, playing his final series against the archenemy he has tormented across these past 14 years, struck out with two on and two out to complete one of his most forgettable games ever against the Yankees.
“I went 0-for-5 today,” Ortiz said, “so I don’t got s— to talk about.”
That’s fine. This one was all about Price, who has chased a lousy first half of his first season with the Red Sox by posting a 3.67 ERA and winning eight of 11 decisions since the All-Star break. He trails only Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale for the most starts of eight or more innings and is tied with former Detroit Tigers teammate Justin Verlander for the most starts with double-digit strikeouts in the league.
So, Price can be excused for this stinker, especially in a ballpark and against a team that has given him trouble all season and after the most emotional of weekends.
But ask any Red Sox fans and they will tell you about that queasy feeling they still get in the pits of their stomachs whenever they think about Price starting big games in the postseason next month.
The stakes weren’t exactly high Tuesday night. The Red Sox’s magic number to win the division is down to one, so if they weren’t going to party after the opener of their series against the Yankees, there’s always Wednesday or Thursday nights. By the time they return to Fenway Park on Friday for the final series of the regular season, the crown almost certainly will be theirs.
But with only one start remaining before Price is thrust into the October spotlight once again, the sight of Yankees star rookie Gary Sanchez, shortstop Didi Gregorius and Tyler Austin launching middle-of-the-plate pitches into the bleachers isn’t exactly what the Red Sox want to see from their likely Game 1 starter, who happens to be 0-7 with a 5.27 ERA in eight career postseason starts.
Considering how Price was pitching, Farrell could have lifted him before the seventh inning, even though he had thrown only 76 pitches. But Farrell explained that he wanted to keep right-handed hitters Austin Romine and Tyler Austin in the game. If he had brought in right-hander Brad Ziegler or possibly even lefty reliever Robbie Ross Jr., it’s conceivable Yankees manager Joe Girardi would have countered by pinch-hitting with veterans Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira.
Regardless of the decision, Price has to do better than allowing a leadoff single to .237-hitting Romine and a fastball over the middle of the plate to .197-hitting Austin. The fact that he didn’t, especially after the Red Sox had tied the score and with the champagne chilling in the clubhouse, only fuels the narrative that he is unable to win when there’s something on the line.
“After we tied it up 4-4 in the sixth, my mindset, I want to get nine more outs,” Price said. “I got one more. To go out there and give up 12 hits and six runs in six innings, I should never do that.
“I feel good. I’m fine mentally. I’m fine physically. Didn’t do it tonight, but so what? I’ll get ’em next time. It’s what I’ve said all year, and I’ve done a much better job of that the second half. I’m not going to be great every time out there.”
In October, though, Price had better be better than this.