Decorated veteran David Price achieves an unlikely yet crucial first as a Dodger
The last time David Price earned a save, he ended up in a dogpile. He was 35 days into his major league career and the Tampa Bay Rays had just clinched a spot in the World Series.
Five All-Star appearances, four more teams, one Cy Young Award and 4,563 days later, Price earned another save.
“You don’t script many things in baseball, but this could not have been scripted any better for him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “When he has a moment like this to add to all of his other personal achievements, this is a nice feather in his cap.”
You would be forgiven for believing the Dodgers can script victories, given that Thursday’s 7-5 win over the Colorado Rockies left them on pace to win 137 games this season. But this part was scripted: Before Thursday’s game, Roberts told Price he would be the closer du jour.
“I can’t really repeat what I said,” Price said, “but I was excited for it.”
For one, it was Jackie Robinson Day. Price opted out last season, so this was his first chance to play for Robinson’s team on his day.
Jackie Robinson’s role as leader in baseball and the civil rights movement served as the inspiration for a painting unveiled at the Negro Leagues Museum.
“Extremely special,” Price said.
Price met with some of Robinson’s relatives before the game. He also agreed to donate his daily salary to the Players Alliance, an organization founded last year to uplift Black people within baseball and within neighborhoods. Price said he was pleased that Black players now have a chat group where they can ask any veteran anything at any time, and he was proud that the Alliance delivered food, water and sporting goods to cities across America during the pandemic.
But Price also wanted to deliver on the field for his latest team, and the first team for which he has not been used as a starting pitcher. He made two appearances in the first 12 days of the season, giving up nine hits — including three home runs — in 3 2/3 innings. In his third appearance, he worked a perfect inning.
On Wednesday, the Dodgers used their top four relievers: Victor Gonzalez, Kenley Jansen, Corey Knebel and Blake Treinen. With the first showdown series against the San Diego Padres starting on Friday, the Dodgers gave Price the ball in the ninth inning Thursday with a two-run lead.
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The first two batters singled, on three pitches, and the Rockies had the tying run on base. They then played their trump card, pinch-hitting with their best hitter, Trevor Story.
Price’s fourth pitch was a ball, and so was his fifth. He was two balls from loading the bases with none out.
His next nine pitches were strikes — two strikeouts and a groundout — and that was the ballgame.
“It was fun,” Price said. “To be out there, to have a chance to help us win, to finish a game, I haven’t had many opportunities to do that. It’s definitely a different feeling, but it’s a lot of fun.”
He said he is getting better in the bullpen every day — with his stuff, his command, his ability to rebound on the day after he pitches, and his routine as a reliever. The Dodgers won all of the first three games in which Price appeared, but none by fewer than five runs.
It is not every team that can boast of a Cy Young winner as bullpen depth, and Price’s increasing comfort level in relief could make the Dodgers more comfortable using him in close games.
“It’s going to be huge for us if we can put him out there in spots like that,” Dodgers infielder Max Muncy said.
Price got a game ball, from the first regular-season save of his 13-year career. He plans to present it to his parents, whom he said were not awake to see the save.
“They’re on the East Coast, so it’s late over there,” he said, “so looking forward to getting those texts and phone calls in the morning.”
He did not get the ball from that 2008 postseason save. In Game 7 of that American League Championship Series, the final out was recorded by Akinori Iwamura, the Rays’ second baseman.
“He stepped on second base and shoved it in his back pocket,” Price said. “I think it’s in Japan now.”
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