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All eyes on David Price as the Red Sox try to avoid an 0-2 hole

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Is tonight’s game a “must-win” for the Red Sox? No. A lot of teams have gone down 2-0 before and have come back to win a seven game series. But given how the ball flies out of Minute Maid Park, Boston does not want to head for three games in Houston needing to win four out of five to stay alive in the postseason. And no matter where you’re heading for the middle three, a team does not want to drop both home games to open a series. So yes, there is pressure on Boston tonight, even if it’s not must-win pressure.

And most of that pressure falls on the shoulders of David Price.

ALCS Game 

Astros vs. Red Sox
Ballpark: Fenway Park
Time: 7:09 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: Gerrit Cole vs. David Price

Price took the only loss for the Red Sox in the ALDS, giving up two homers, walking two and allowing three runs in an inning and two-thirds against the Yankees. In doing so his career postseason record moved to — all together now — 0-9 with a 6.03 ERA in 10 starts, becoming the first pitcher in history to not have a postseason victory as a starter after starting that many games (Price has two wins in the postseason as a reliever). If you watch the pregame show and listen to the TBS broadcast tonight I suspect you’ll hear that fact quoted to you 50 times.

On the one hand it’s overplayed. At this point everyone is aware of how small sample sizes work in baseball and how if you pick out one of a countless number of potential splits for a ballplayer, it stands a good chance of being unrepresentative. Those ten postseason starts stick out, but against nearly 300 total starts in which he’s won 143 games and posted a career ERA+ of 122, it’s insignificant from an analysis perspective. Price has been bad in the postseason, yes, but that does not make him a bad pitcher and, given what he has shown at all other times, it’s not analytically sound to say that he stands a poor chance to do well in the postseason in the future.

On the other hand: he’s David Price, and David Price has a bit of a track record of letting things get into his head.

Last year he got into an expletive-filled spat with the media— a day after he said he would no longer be talking to the media — and the account of that altercation strongly suggested it was about Price reading things people said about him and getting really, really, really mad. Like over-the-top, yelling and dropping F-bombs mad. He also berated Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley during a charter flight last year in response to something critical Eckersley said about Price during an NESN broadcast.

It’s OK to get mad sometimes, but it’s not super common for players to get angry-outburst mad like Price has, especially over mere — and not unfair — media criticism. This is was not some talk radio goon calling Price a “punk” or insulting him personally or something. It was two well-respected media members, one of which is himself a Hall of Fame pitcher, commenting on Price’s performance and behavior as a pitcher. And Price lost it.

Both of these incidents took place at around the same time and he has not had similar outbursts that we know of. Still, it shows that Price is keenly aware of what is said about him and that, even if he has handled himself better in the past year, it’s very likely he’s still reading and being affected by such stuff. Which is to say that I doubt there is any way on Earth he is doing what most athletes say they do and is putting it all out of his mind and just focusing on his game. He is either thinking specifically about whether or not he has some post-season choke tendencies and/or he is angry that anyone is suggesting he does.

Again: I don’t think that means Price will pitch poorly tonight. As I said above, he has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past 11 seasons and was a well above average starter in 2018. Alex Cora would not hand him the ball tonight if he doubted Price could do the job and, in fact, Price could come out tonight and dominate.

But if any pitcher in this postseason is going to feel the moment, it’s Price. To deny at least the possibility of the moment affecting him negatively would be to put one’s head in the sand.

Mr. Price, get ready for your closeup. It comes just after 7PM tonight.

Phillies-Mets could get contentious tonight

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As the Mets were wrapping up a 9-0 shellacking of the Phillies on Tuesday night, reliever Jacob Rhame threw a pitch up and in to first baseman Rhys Hoskins with two outs in the ninth inning. The pitch sailed behind Hoskins’ back. The slugger wasn’t happy about the scare, understandably. Players began to trickle out of their respective dugouts, but a fracas was avoided.

Hoskins was skeptical that Rhame simply missed his spot. Per MLB.com’s Thomas Harrigan, Hoskins said, “He didn’t miss up and in the rest of the inning, so I’ll let you decide. I would assume teams are pitching me in because that’s where they think they can get me out, and that’s fine. That’s part of the game. Again, I think most guys are capable of pitching inside and not missing that bad.”

Teammate Bryce Harper said, “I don’t get it. I understand that two of their guys got hit yesterday. But, I mean, if it’s baseball and you’re going to drill somebody, at least hit him in the [butt]. Not in the head. You throw 98, it’s scary now. You could kill somebody. Lose your eyesight. That’s bigger than the game.”

Indeed, two Mets were hit by pitches on Monday night. José Álvarez hit Jeff McNeil in the seventh inning, which advanced a base runner. In the very next at-bat, Juan Nicasio hit Pete Alonso with a first-pitch fastball. It was obvious neither was intentional as the Phillies were only down two runs and hitting both batters advanced base runners and led to runs scoring. It is less obvious that Rhame’s pitch to Hoskins was unintentional, but he showed empathy in his post-game comments. Rhame said, “When you accidentally sail one, it’s probably pretty scary. I’d get [angry], too.”

Will Wednesday night’s series finale be contentious? Despite being “fairly upset,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said, “We do not retaliate, and we do not throw at anybody intentionally,” Jake Seiner of the Associated Press reports.

Mets manager Mickey Calloway didn’t give as straight an answer. Per MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, Calloway said, “I think at this point, you just go out there and beat people, and win. … For now, I don’t feel like anything has been intentional at us that has warranted anything from our side.” If that changes, however, Calloway said, “They’re going to have each other’s backs.”

Hopefully, neither side decides to take justice into their own hands. But, welcome to the NL East in 2019. The Mets lead the Phillies by one game, and the Braves and Nationals by 1.5 games. It’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out division fight all year long.