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David Price finally has his trump card

The Red Sox pitcher didn’t win World Series MVP, but he came away with something greater

LOS ANGELES — He could have thrown it all in our faces, as sharply and precisely as he did to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He could have laughed at everyone for doubting him. He could have given one-word answers, to make a point. Instead, David Price delivered another steely performance after a champagne session with his Boston Red Sox teammates in the clubhouse celebrating their World Series victory.

“Where is everyone at? I didn’t come in here to talk to 10 people,” Price joked before fielding questions from the media.

His point was evident. For Price, this moment of triumph was about more than overcoming past postseason failures. It was about more than a career of redemption. It was personal.

For Price, the vindication was connected to the people in the room: the media.

For years in this league, Price had a perhaps unfair rep as a loser who never managed to make his immense talent matter in the biggest moments. Before this postseason, in 10 starts, he’d won exactly zero games. He’d had only four quality starts. It was as much a part of his legacy as anything else he’d accomplished as a ballplayer.

David Price reacts after retiring the side during the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

He once publicly chided fans in Tampa Bay for not showing up to a big game. He also once called the media “nerds,” which is unproductive at best.

Baseball has enough on-field unwritten rules, and in some minds, Price managed to break an off-field unwritten rule too: He confronted Dennis Eckersley on the team plane about something the broadcaster and former Red Sox pitcher said about a teammate on a telecast. He also called him out for not taking his job seriously. The incident flatly rocked the Boston sports media world.

To that point, Price had been a well-respected guy in the league. Ask guys around the bigs, particularly black players, about his reputation for sticking up for people and it’s well-known. Battles with people who write words for a living is a space in which reasonable people can disagree, even if sometimes the vitriol is heavy.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora decided to give Price the ball in Game 2 of the World Series, a gutsy decision at the time. He had other options available, and no one would have faulted the first-year manager if he’d gone away from the 11-year starter.

Price won that game. His toddler son was in the presser with him, and the mood was great. Then he threw 13 pitches in relief in Game 3. By the end of his appearance in the Game 5 clincher, walking off the mound after retiring Yasiel Puig on a comebacker, he was fired up. After exiting in the next inning, he got an ovation — and not just from the Red Sox faithful in the crowd. His teammates were on their feet too. A tidy 82 pitches got the job done.

Cora’s trust in Price paid off. He knew Price could deliver in big spots when history had indicated otherwise.

“Our relationship is definitely very unique,” Price said of Cora. “It started the first week of January or second week of January, whenever we went out to team lunch, Sale, Sandy, Jackie Bradley and myself. Going to BJ’s there in Fort Myers, just [Cora] kind of setting that tone with the first meeting with just the four of us.

“We’re always in contact, even when we’re away from the field. So I’ve said it many times, he’s cool.”

Said Cora after Game 5: “David loves to be ready to compete on a daily basis. The four days in between starts, he goes about his business. Obviously he has to be prepared, but he enjoys being available, and he was available the whole time, the whole time, from the Division Series to the Championship Series to the World Series. There was a text, ‘I’m ready for tomorrow. Count on me. Use me.’

“He’s been locked in for a while.”

It was a far cry from the tune we’d heard in 2017. If you type the words “David+Price+Attitude” into Google, the results are all basically the same.

On Sunday night, he was masterful. After giving up a homer on his first pitch, Price turned around and mowed down the Dodgers lineup. The only reason a runner reached third is because J.D. Martinez, normally a designated hitter, lost a ball in the lights off the bat of David Freese.

There’s a good argument that Price could have been the MVP of the Fall Classic. Ultimately, what became clear is that for his teammates, forget about the trophy, he probably was.

“We love when he’s on the mound,” said World Series MVP Steve Pearce. “When he takes it, he’s a bulldog. He competes. And I couldn’t be any happier for him.

“He shut one of the best teams down, and he pitched in a game-clinching World Series game. That’s the guy we want on the mound, and he delivered.”

When Price was asked about why his teammates speak so highly of him, he tried to hold back tears, eventually pausing to wipe them away without shame.

“I mean, this is a game we get to play,” he said. “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.”

As for the criticism from the media, it certainly didn’t go unaddressed.

“I can’t tell you how good it feels to hold that trump card,” he said. “And 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.”

Clinton Yates is a tastemaker at The Undefeated. He likes rap, rock, reggae, R&B, and remixes — in that order.