David Price rises to the occasion for Red Sox
BOSTON -- #AllRise?
Oh, Jackie Bradley Jr. rose, all right.
Bradley rose so high Sunday night that he came down with what should have been New York Yankees phenom Aaron Judge's 31st homer of the season. It happened in the eighth inning of the finale of a day-night doubleheader at Fenway Park with the Boston Red Sox leading by three runs. Judge crushed a ball to the center-field triangle, but Bradley tracked it, timed his leap and made one of the best catches you will ever see -- even if the Red Sox center fielder insists it wasn't his most difficult.
But David Price rose, too, for the Red Sox. In the long run, that was the most meaningful takeaway from Sunday night.
The Red Sox and Yankees played four games in the past three days, including 34 innings in a span of 31 hours between Saturday and Sunday. By the time Price threw his first pitch at 8:10 p.m., the Sox had dropped back-to-back games, failed to score a run in 22 consecutive innings and watched their division lead over the Yankees shrink to 2.5 games.
A strong case could be made that Boston needed its $217 million lefty as much as at any point until he makes his next postseason start. And he delivered.
Price set the tone by getting out of a two-on, two-out situation in the first inning and cruised for the next seven. In his 10th start since returning from a spring-training elbow injury, he was at his very best, blanking the Yankees on seven hits and striking out eight in eight walk-free innings to outduel Masahiro Tanaka.
Betts provided the offense, slugging a two-run homer over the Green Monster in the third inning and manufacturing a run with his speed in the sixth. But in a series dominated by pitching -- Red Sox starters combined for a 1.63 ERA, while Yankees starters posted a 2.55 mark -- Price's start was an exclamation point.
In the post-David Ortiz era, the Red Sox are built around their pitching, especially their starting rotation. And if Price continues to pitch like this -- on the heels of ace lefty Chris Sale's latest masterpiece of 7⅔ scoreless innings on Saturday -- nobody will catch the Sox in the American League East.
"It starts with David Price," manager John Farrell said. "That was just a great game from him. He was outstanding -- powerful from start to finish, a lot of strikes, very good command. It was impressive to see how he maintained his stuff throughout. Fastball to both sides of the plate. I thought he had a really good cutter. On a night when we needed a bounce-back win, it was a big performance by David."
Said Bradley: "David pitched spectacular tonight. It was definitely fun playing behind him. Hopefully this helps us with some momentum going forward."
To be fair, it was a continuation of the way Price had been pitching before the All-Star break. After dealing with uncharacteristic command issues in his first handful of starts, Price allowed seven earned runs on 23 hits for a 2.52 ERA and had a 26-to-5 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in his last four starts before the break.
Whereas the Red Sox -- and even Price, if he's being honest -- might have had some uncertainty over whether he would return to his usual form in the aftermath of the elbow strain, there is no longer any doubt.
"That's in the past in my eyes," Price said. "I expect to go out there and get 27 outs and nine zeroes every fifth day, every time I touch the mound. That was a good win for us. We needed it."
And Price needed Bradley to come down with Judge's drive in the eighth. The Sox pitched Judge tough all weekend, holding him to one infield hit in the four games. But if not for Bradley, Judge might have changed the complexion of the series finale.
"I didn't think it was going in the bullpen. I thought it was going to hit the Jumbotron, to be honest," Price said. "That's the loudest ball I've heard. I'm pretty sure the wind was blowing in tonight. That's the only reason why that ball stayed in -- other than Jackie."
To hear Betts tell it, Bradley had it all along.
"Jackie does this little thing where, midway while the ball is in the air, he starts timing it," Betts said. "Once I saw him timing it, I figured he had a chance to catch it. He made it look easy."
According to Bradley, it was easier than a diving catch in 2015 against then-White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers. Bradley has made plenty of other highlight-reel catches, but considering Judge's profile as the game's preeminent power hitter, this one will be remembered for a while.
"I know that I was timing up my steps. I wasn't sprinting back to the wall and waiting," Bradley said. "It was one of those plays where I just try to make sure I get my feet aligned and don't jump into the wall, but actually go up."
Rise, if you will.
Bradley rose. Price did, too. Just when the Red Sox needed them to.