Even to those who were there, the home run David Price allowed in the NCAA regional against the University of Michigan seemed unimaginable, particularly since it served as the punctuation to his highly decorated college career at Vanderbilt.
Those who did not see it — no doubt — were even less likely to believe it in 2008 when, in the infancy of his Major League career, he had a win and a save for the Tampa Bay Rays in their seven-game victory over the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series.
Suddenly, though, it does not seem all that surprising.
In the past two years, Price has gone 0-3 in the postseason as the Rays got bounced by the Texas Rangers in the divisional round of the playoffs both times.
Make no mistake, the hard-throwing left-hander has not been awful. He struck out 14 and did not walk a batter in two 2010 appearances that lasted a total of 12.2 innings. In his lone appearance this October he struck out three more without a walk in 6.2 innings.
There have been home runs allowed, though.
Dominant through six innings in this year’s Game 3 against Texas, he gave up a leadoff single in the seventh followed by a two-run home run that put the Rays in a 2-1 hole. They never recovered and lost 4-3. In the 2010 series opener he allowed two home runs in a 5-1 defeat.
Don’t forget the two bombs against him on the unforgettable final day of this regular season in a game his teammates rallied from seven runs down to win 8-7 and earn the AL wild card.
Suddenly, this looks like a theme.
At 26 years old, Price remains one of the most promising pitchers in the game. He has been named to a couple of All-Star games and started one. He was the runner-up for the 2010 American League Cy Young Award.
Yet the reality is that postseason failures have a way of sticking with you.
Just ask Bill Buckner or the late Donnie Moore, who are 25 years removed from singular playoff missteps that remain defining moments in their respective careers. A fan in Chicago became immortal eight years ago when he cost the Cubs a potential out.
Not only that, but in the wake of MLB’s steroid era the game is richer in pitching than it has been in generations. Many of those at the head of that effort have further distinguished themselves with their postseason performances.
Last year alone Tim Lincecum was critical to the San Francisco Giants’ title run last season, Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter in his first postseason appearance and Cliff Lee helped yet another team — not to mention he defeated Price twice head-to-head — reach the World Series.
A week ago Detroit’s Justin Verlander outdueled C.C. Sabathia of the New York Yankees in a showdown disrupted and partially delayed for a couple games by rain.
Curt Schilling already was renowned as a clutch playoff performer well before he added to his legend with a bloody sock.
Those are the type of things that fans, owners, teammates and managers expect from their aces.
You can make the argument that Price’s teammates have not helped him much, and you’d be right. In the past two years they have scored five runs for him in three games.
Every pitch counts in the postseason, though. It is not good enough to throw 99 really good ones if one bad one ends up in the outfield seats at the wrong time.
At this point, it will be tough to be surprised if it happens to Price again.