LOS ANGELES — For David Price, the world will now look different. The air will seem cleaner when he breathes. Food will dance across his taste buds. His chats with the media will … well, maybe those won’t change. But the story of Price’s baseball life now has a different narrative arc.
“I am 33 years old now,” Price said. “Last time I was in this type of situation was when I was 23. A lot of things have changed since then. To be able to come out on top and to be able to contribute in October, that’s why I play the game.”
For Clayton Kershaw, the world today looks the way it did yesterday, the way it did last November, the way it has looked at the end of every season of his brilliant career. The résumé remains incomplete. The greatest pitcher of his generation has done everything else — Cy Youngs, an MVP award, a 300-strikeout season, 20-win campaigns, a Hall of Fame fast-track — but the title prey remains elusive. There is no guarantee he will ever slay it.
“I’m not sure what there is to be done,” Kershaw said. “I think it’s a little too early to think about all of that stuff, honestly. But I think you have to realize that we are a really good team to get to go to the World Series two years in a row. It might not be a personnel thing, it might just be a ‘play better’ thing.”
No two pitchers of this generation have carried more of a burden from their postseason travails than Kershaw and Price. The dissection of their performances and the myths that have risen from such autopsies have never been fair. There have been disappointments, to be sure. There also have been enough successes that to suggest either star lefty has some innate flaw that prevents them from succeeding in October is madness.
Nevertheless, the baggage that accumulates from such tales piles up over the years. It’s heavy. It’s cumbersome. The questions never cease, the curious inquiries looking for an explanation that mostly doesn’t exist. The only one that makes any sense is that all along, it has only been baseball and the guys on the other side are pretty good too.
“You’ve got to give credit to David Price over there,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He pitched a heck of a ballgame. Couldn’t put hits together, couldn’t get baserunners, and really stress them at all. It was pretty straightforward. I can’t say enough about what Clayton [and] what our guys did. And unfortunately we came up short again this year.”
Price was dazzling for seven innings in Boston’s clincher Sunday. He gave up a leadoff home run to David Freese, then pinned the Dodgers down until departing after an eighth-inning walk. His fastball hit all the right spots; his resurgent changeup left L.A. batters spinning.
After Price’s clubs lost the first 10 postseason starts of his career, this year’s Red Sox won his last four. He finished 3-0 this October with a 2.66 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP. He started, he relieved. According to his manager, he wanted to pitch every damned day.
“He was available the whole time, the whole time, from the division series to the championship series to the World Series,” Cora said. “[Every day] there was a text, ‘I’m ready for tomorrow. Count on me. Use me.'”
According to Price, the workload was inconsequential. He long ago claimed that Dr. James Andrews, the elbow guru that all pitchers dread, told him that he had a unique physiology. He never felt like those claims were taken seriously and it became one of many obstacles that emerged between him and the media members who cover him. That much was still evident after Game 5, in his moment of triumph.
“I told you guys, Dr. Andrews said I have a special elbow,” Price said. “I’m sure you guys ridiculed me and mocked me and made fun of me, and did everything that you guys do. I wasn’t lying when he told me that, and now you guys see that.”
The last interview of the postgame podium session was with Price. It was nearly two hours after Game 5 ended, and he’d already been interviewed a number of times on the field. He had to be convinced to do one last session, the one that put the punctuation mark on the 2018 season. By the time he arrived, most of the reporters on hand had slunk off to different parts of Dodger Stadium, to write stories, transmit photos, edit videos and such. Only a handful of reporters had waited around for his session.
“Where is everybody?” Price asked. “I didn’t come in here for 10 people.”
What followed was an encapsulation of Price’s entire career. He was combative. He was emotional. And he was informative — answering every question thoughtfully. Maybe he didn’t want to be there, but it was a performance that rivaled what we had all witnessed earlier that night when he was on the mound. If anyone entered that room wondering what the World Series meant to Price, they left it with complete understanding.
The “how does it feel” questions are always popular in these situations, and it cropped up right away.
“To answer that question [about his postseason struggles] in spring training, and day in, day out, over and over and over and over,” Price said. “I hold all the cards now. That feels so good. That feels so good. I can’t tell you how good it feels to hold that trump card. You guys have had it for a long time. You’ve played that card extremely well. But you don’t have it anymore. None of you do. And that feels really good.”
For Kershaw, there is little time to process the disappointment. And there is disappointment.
“Disappointed,” Kershaw said, when asked about his emotions. “Yeah, just disappointed, I think. There’s only one team that can win and we know that, but it just hurts worse when you make it all the way and get second place. So having done that two years in a row now, it doesn’t make it any easier.”
Kershaw grinded, as players like to say. He gave up a soft single to Andrew Benintendi in the first. Then the eventual World Series MVP Steve Pearce touched him for a two-run shot, putting the Dodgers in an uphill battle the entire game.
But Kershaw bounced back, giving up only a single among the next 15 batters he faced. Then Mookie Betts got him for a solo shot in the sixth, and J.D. Martinez did the same to lead off the seventh. Kershaw pushed on, looking staggered at times as he walked around the mound between batters. In the social media sphere, his manager, Roberts, was getting roasted for sticking with his star for too long. The second-guess routine is one Roberts has become all too familiar with this postseason, one that he accepts.
“The interest, the opinions, all that thing, I look at it as a good thing,” Roberts said. “Because if there’s interest and people have opinions, that’s good for all of us. But I do know that there’s a lot of thought in knowing your players and things that people aren’t always privy to, decisions that I make.”
Kershaw made it through the seventh and was done, his team trailing 4-1 when he left. It wasn’t a terrible outing, but it was far from vintage Kershaw. In World Series/great pitcher terms, he was more like the 1938 version of Dizzy Dean than 1934.
It was the 1938 Dean who pitched valiantly for the Cubs before getting buried by a Frankie Crosetti home run that sent the Yankees to another one of their titles. Not long before, in 1934, Dean was a brash, fireballing 30-game winner who led the St. Louis Cardinals to a Series win over Detroit. Four years later, he was getting by with guile and guts. It was admirable, and it wasn’t enough.
Time goes by fast even for star pitchers, and Kershaw knows that as well as anybody. Now he has three days to decide whether to opt out of his contract. If he does, it’s entirely possible that when he walked off the mound after that seventh inning, it was for the final time in a Dodgers uniform.
“I know the future questions are obviously coming for myself,” Kershaw said. “I don’t want to take away from tonight, obviously, and what everybody is feeling. I never want to put the focus just on me or anything like that. This was a tough one for us tonight. It really was.”
Price came to Boston for the title his club won Sunday. He has said that often this October, even while cynics might point at his $217 million contract as another good reason to go to the Red Sox. But it hasn’t been easy. He has clashed with reporters in the Boston fishbowl time and again, and even got into it with Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley.
Regardless of Prices’ relationship with the media, his teammates and manager have unceasingly lauded him for his demeanor and work ethic. When asked about the support from those he shares a clubhouse with, the combative Price turned away to collect himself. It took him several seconds before he could answer the question in an occasionally cracking voice.
“[It means] a lot,” Price said. “I mean, this is a game we get to play. It’s the relationships that you make while you do this, while you play this game that — that’s what makes this game so special.”
That was the moment. That’s when you felt it, that this ongoing saga with Price’s postseason record had been a cloud following him around and blotting out the sun, perhaps even more than he realized. The expectations that go with playing for the Red Sox are almost unreasonably high, but it’s part and parcel of playing for a team in that market, for that contract, in that ballpark.
Boston owns baseball’s highest payroll, which Cora and the players euphemize as “commitment from ownership.” The roster is laden with proven talent acquired from elsewhere, such as Price, Chris Sale, Pearce, Martinez, Craig Kimbrel and others. It’s laden with top-shelf homegrown players such as the Killer B’s outfield of Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Benintendi. The Red Sox have been imbued with every tangible asset with which to succeed.
Yet title teams have that extra something going on in the clubhouse. Call it pulling in the same direction, a penchant for mutual sacrifice, camaraderie, whatever. You can sense it when you’re around it.
“We’re World Series champs,” Price said. “That’s special. This is a very special team. We rallied together all year long, starting in spring training.”
The future for Kershaw is suddenly cloudy. He says he doesn’t yet know if he’ll opt out of his deal. And only if he does that can we broach the question of whether he might seriously seek to find a new team. For years, it seemed to be a cinch that Kershaw would hit the market, even if it was only to secure a longer commitment from the Dodgers.
But the circumstances have evolved. Kershaw is no longer the power pitcher he once was, nor is he as durable. His high-water mark for games started over the past three years is just 27. He’s 30 years old and last year’s free-agent market wasn’t friendly to over-30 talent. If he declines his opt-out, he’ll remain with the Dodgers for the next two years while earning around $35 million per season.
And he’ll go on with his chase. The Dodgers’ title drought has now reached 30 seasons; Kershaw has been with them for the past 11. His quest has been the Dodgers’ quest. Will it remain so?
“I haven’t made the decision yet,” Kershaw said. “We have three days to talk, between us and the Dodgers, see what happens. And then we’ll go from there.”
As for Price, his professional life has become magical. There will be a parade involving duck boats back in Boston. The questions about postseason fallibility will surely cease. Red Sox fans will embrace him as never before.
After the trophy presentation on the field at Dodger Stadium, thousands of Red Sox fans remained in the stands making a clamor. Meanwhile, the players milled around the field, posing for pictures, celebrating with friends and family, pausing for interviews when they could be corralled.
Price was out there with the rest of them, then headed for the visiting dugout. He looked up at the throng of Boston fans still cheering wildly, took off his blue hat and flung it high into the night. It was just one more small way of giving back.
“We have a lot of Red Sox fans here,” Price said. “And hopefully one of them got that hat and they can tell that story for the rest of their life. I don’t need that hat. I don’t even want that hat. It stinks. It smells bad.”
Price was joking of course, but what he didn’t know — and what was shared with him by a reporter in that emotional postgame interview session — was who caught the hat. It settled into the hands of a Red Sox fan and Boston native, who had moved with his mother to the drier climate of Los Angeles because she has multiple sclerosis. The fan told the reporter that he, indeed, would keep the hat for the rest of his life.
“That makes it even more special,” Price said.
That’s the kind of night it was for Price.
For Kershaw, the wait for that kind of happy ending continues. You can’t do more on the field than he already has done, and he plays for the right team and in the right city. It has always been a perfect baseball marriage — a star lefty shining in the home of Sandy Koufax — but, then again, sometimes even once-good marriages break apart.
And, in the case of Price, sometimes once-rocky marriages turn into portraits of pure bliss.
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