Instant Replay: He's Young, But Price is Right
In the top of the eighth inning last night, Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon had a tough decision: Facing one of Boston's best -- and hottest -- contact hitters, J.D. Drew, he could either A) pitch the flame-throwing right hander whom the Red Sox had battered twice in as many games (Australian Grant Balfour), B) pitch the Game 5 starter, his team's lone pitching delegate to July's All-Star Game (Scott Kazmir) or C) use the youngest pitcher on either roster, a 23-year old less than two years removed from being the top overall pick in the MLB Draft (Vanderbilt ace turned minor league star starter turned playoff spot reliever David Price).
Maddon picked option C. The rest is history.
Entering with the bases loaded, David Price promptly proceeded to get the hardest four outs any pitcher can be charged with: the last four his team needs to advance. Price struck out Drew on four pitches, starting with two 87 mile-per-hour cut fastballs before kicking the velocity up 10 mph -- yes, to 97 mph -- on back to back fastballs, catching Drew with an uneasy checked swing to retire the All-Star Game MVP.
Then, in the ninth, Price was left in to finish off the save (which, incidentally, is the first of his major league career). He walked Sox slugger Jason Bay after an eight-pitch battle, but calmed himself down in time to retire Mark Kotsay, Jason Varitek and Jed Lowrie in what could be the final Red Sox at-bat for two of the three (Lowrie is almost certainly in the team's future infield plans).
How did Price do it? By relying on his overpowering stuff and his catcher's research. Price never shook off a call from Rays catcher Dioner Navarro, focusing just on executing the pitches called rather than diagnosing what the hitters could handle.
As a result, the Rays are on to the World Series while the Red Sox head home for a whole lot of directional decisions for the organization's future. Here's the four hitters Price put down, and exactly how he did it:
Two outs, J.D. Drew batting, Alex Cora at third, David Ortiz at second, Kevin Youkilis at first.
-- Pitch One: Price gets started with an 87 mph cut fastball that swerves directly over the lower edge of the strike zone. Drew watches it for strike one.
-- Pitch Two: Price sticks with what works, dropping a second 87 mph cutter in at almost exactly the same spot as pitch No. 1. Drew swings over it for strike two.
-- Pitch Three: Keeping Drew off balance, Price delivers a blazing 97 mph fastball that misses outside and low. Drew watches it for ball one.
-- Pitch Four: Price delivers another 97 mph heater, but Drew can't hold up on this one, trying to hold back a check swing on what would have been ball two. Instead, it's ruled that he went around and he strikes out, leaving the bases loaded.
Verdict: J.D. Drew never seemed to have a chance once it was clear that Price wasn't phased by the big stage. After watching the first pitch, Drew was way in front and too high on the second cutter and then clearly couldn't tell if he was facing a straight fastball or cutter on the fourth pitch. The game changing out, courtesy the least experienced player on either roster.
No outs, Jason Bay hitting.
-- Pitch One: Price starts the ninth with more heat, delivering a 96 mph fastball that crosses the inside edge of the plate. Bay watches it for strike one.
-- Pitch Two: Price tries his first slider, sending an 89 mph offering toward home plate. It misses inside and nearly hits Bay, who watches it for ball one.
-- Pitch Three: After missing with a slider, Price goes back to fastballs, throwing a 96 mph ball at Bay. It misses outside, and Bay watches it for ball two.
-- Pitch Four: Another 96 mph fastball from Price slides right over the heart of the plate. Bay fouls it off to even the count, 2-2.
-- Pitch Five: Price tries a cut fastball, throwing an 88 mph offering at Bay, who fouls it off to stay alive.
-- Pitch Six: Back to 96 mph heaters, Price's sixth pitch misses outside. Bay watches it to push the count full.
-- Pitch Seven: Another 96 mph fastball comes close to the edge of the zone. Bay fouls it off to stay at 3-2.
-- Pitch Eight: Looking for fastballs, Bay watches a Price slider slip below the strike zone for ball four, earning a well fought walk.
Verdict: The one real quality at-bat against Price all night, Bay both waited out Price and got him to make more than one mistake pitch. Sure, he didn't crush those mistakes, but he did force Price to alter his offerings and, eventually, miss the zone trying to stay away from Bay's hot zone, earning a key walk.
No outs, Mark Kotsay hitting, Jason Bay at first.
-- Pitch One: Price starts with an 88 mph cutter that heads straight for the edge of the plate. Kotsay tries to lay down a bunt, which goes foul. Strike one.
-- Pitch Two: Price switches to a slider which comes in low. Still, Kotsay is caught off balance, swings defensively and has to fight off the pitch foul for strike two.
-- Pitch Three: Price brings the heat, but his 95 mph fastball misses high. Kotsay watches it for ball one.
-- Pitch Four: Another fastball from Price is just barely high and outside. Kotsay watches it to even the count at 2-2.
-- Pitch Five: Needing a trusty pitch, Kotsay sticks with the fastball, sliding in along the outside edge of the plate, belt high. Kotsay watches it called for strike three.
Verdict: The end of a terrific second half of the season and one horrible game for Kotsay, who seemed confused in all five pitches from Price. He was completely crossed up on the 2-2 pitch, which was a terrific paint-catching strike across the outside edge.
One out, Jason Varitek hitting, Jason Bay at first.
-- Pitch One: Price starts with an 87 mph slider that misses outside and low. Varitek watches it for ball one.
-- Pitch Two: Mixing his offerings, Price moves on to a 96 mph fastball. Varitek swings above it for strike one as the bottom falls out when it crosses the plate.
-- Pitch Three: Price brings in another 96 mph fastball right over the middle. Varitek gets a piece of it for a foul ball, for strike two.
-- Pitch Four: A 94 mph Price fastball is way high, and Varitek watches it sail by his head. Ball two.
-- Pitch Five: After three straight doses of heat, Price moves on to a slider, which drops well below Varitek's swing at the plate. Strike three for the Boston captain.
Verdict: Another mismatch in favor of the talented young pitcher. Varitek never seemed to have the bat speed to catch up with Price's heat, and while watching and waiting for fastballs, Price mixed in just enough off speed to keep Varitek guessing ... and guessing incorrectly.
Two outs, Jed Lowrie hitting, Jason Bay at first.
-- Pitch One: One out away, Price doesn't mess around, starting with a 95 mph fastball. Lowrie watches it cross the plate for strike one.
-- Pitch Two: Price brings in another 95 mph fastball that crosses the top edge of the plate. Lowrie makes contact, but he can't get all the way around on the offering, hitting a dribbler to second baseman Akinori Iwamura, who ends the game.
Verdict: Lowrie was in a tough spot and, after falling behind 0-1, had to defend his strike zone. If it's hard to get around on one of Price's fastballs when a player is glued into the game, it's even harder as a pinch hitter. Lowrie did a solid job to put the ball in play, he just couldn't get a good enough piece of wood on it to keep the game alive.
Five up, four down for Price, all against the toughest odds, tightest situation and scrappiest champions around. Will Maddon keep using Price in the ninth in the World Series now that he was so successful in Game 7? Only Maddon, and maybe Price, know that. Whether he does or not, we know one thing: Price came through when his team needed him most, even if there haven't been too many opportunities for him to be called on in those situations thus far.
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