Red Sox Turn to Struggling David Price to Draw Even With Astros in ALCS Game 2

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BOSTON — Game 1 of the ALCS was a dull disaster for the Red Sox. The 7–2 loss cost them home-field advantage in the series. Ace Chris Sale, whose four-seamer averaged 98 mph in August, sat 89 on Saturday night. He didn’t fool anyone—he generated only six swings and misses—and in the end it was something of a miracle that he allowed only two runs in four innings. Manager Alex Cora got himself ejected arguing that a strike was a ball. (He continued to contend afterward that the pitch was outside, but admitted his response was “kind of embarrassing.”) The 10 walks allowed by Boston pitching set a franchise record for postseason haphazardness. The 10 walks and three hit batsmen set a major league record for postseason ineptitude. While closer Craig Kimbrel languished in the bullpen in the ninth inning of a one-run game, bench coach Ron Roenicke allowed reliever Brandon Workman to make it a five-run game.

The Red Sox collected three hits, all singles. Their only runs came when Astros ace Justin Verlander inexplicably lost his command for two-thirds of an inning; he walked in one run and allowed the other to score on a wild pitch. Probable MVP rightfielder Mookie Betts got a fastball down the pipe with the bases loaded … and rolled it to third base. Third baseman Eduardo Núñez was responsible for the first three runs the Astros scored, although he was only charged with one error. Even the defensively sound catcher Christian Vázquez pegged second base umpire Joe West with a throw at one point. The whole indignity took four hours and three minutes.

On the bright side for Boston, David Price is scheduled to start Game 2.

Let’s be clear: This series is not over. There is a clear pathway to a Red Sox victory—an adequate outing from Price on Sunday; an offensive performance that more closely resembles the team that led the league in runs this year; two wins in Houston and one more at home. But this Astros team is very dangerous—according to Baseball Prospectus’s third-order record, which considers advanced statistics and strength of schedule, Houston was by far the best team in baseball this season—and Boston may have let its best chance get away.

Verlander had pitched in seven playoff games for Houston. His team had won six. And yet the Red Sox had him flustered, missing consistently to his glove side on nearly every fastball he threw in the fifth inning. The two gift runs there erased the deficit Sale had left. Boston could have stolen a game from the Astros—a game the Astros expected to win. Instead the Red Sox collapsed in on themselves.

Now they turn to Price, whose postseason record is roughly the opposite of Verlander’s: 10 starts, 10 losses for his team. No one can quite identify the problem. Is he afraid of big moments? Does he put too much pressure on himself? Does he tip pitches from the windup? Does he overthrow his cutter out of a desire to prove the doubters wrong? Has he simply been unlucky?

In his last outing, Game 2 of the ALDS against the Yankees, Price gave up three runs and struck out none while recording only five outs. He struggled so badly that he volunteered to hold a press conference after the game, usually only the responsibility of stars on the winning team. That night, Cora insisted that he trusted Price. On the field in the moments after Boston won the ALDS, before the players had even shed their jerseys in favor of ALDS CHAMPIONS T-shirts, Cora told Price he would pitch Game 2. But Price’s track record is so uninspiring that after Saturday’s game a reporter double-checked: Even after a loss, was Cora still “100 percent” sure that Price should start? “Yes,” Cora said.

So the Red Sox will proceed with a plan that does not inspire much confidence in regular listeners to Boston talk radio. It seems to inspire confidence in them, though.

“We’re human,” Betts said. “We mess up sometimes. It’s just a matter of getting over it, turning the page and getting ready for tomorrow. It’s a new day tomorrow.”

All year, the Red Sox have told themselves nobody believed in them. No matter that they led the league in payroll ($228 million) and wins (108): They persisted in the fantasy that they were underdogs. Now they finally are.

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