By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — If you were to ask David Price about his upcoming start against the Yankees on Sunday Night Baseball, he’d most assuredly downplay it as much as he possibly could. Just another start, going out there and doing my job, trying to give my team a chance to win. Or maybe if you asked him how excited he is or is not to make this start, he’d go back to some condescending sarcasm.

He can say or think whatever he wants. But David Price has a lot riding on Sunday night’s performance against the Yankees.

The exact circumstances of that start, as of the time of this writing, are not yet fully known. Perhaps the Red Sox will be going for a four-game sweep, and a victory will be considered a luxury. With Boston entering the series with a 5.5-game lead over New York, winning two or more games this weekend will be considered more than satisfactory. On the flip side, if the Yankees manage to win the first three games of the series and the pressure falls on Price to prevent the sweep? The drama there will be obvious. And tremendous.

But regardless of those circumstances, Price will take the mound on Sunday night needing to prove that he can handle such a moment, on such a stage, with such an audience, against such a team. Because the last time out with the same opportunity? It didn’t go so well. Nor did it the time before that. Or the time before that. And everybody knows how he’s performed in the postseason. We need not explore that at this moment, but Sunday’s start should be looked at as a proving ground for Price to show that he can actually handle a big moment. So far in 2018, aside from a mediocre start in Houston and a solid showing against Philadelphia, he’s been unable to really come close.

By now you know how Price has fared against the Yankees this year. He left his first start vs. New York after allowing four runs in one inning. It was the first time in his career that he’s had to leave a game after an inning due to a condition of hand numbness — a condition he’s said he’s dealt with forever in cold weather. He then missed his next start against the Yankees in early May after coming down with … a “mild” case of carpal tunnel. He has not missed any starts since then.

And there was the famed Sunday night showing on July 1. That night, Price was plastered to the tune of eight earned runs in 3.1 innings on national TV. That came on nine hits and a career-high five home runs allowed. It was ugly.

Had it just been one start, it would be excused. Everyone has one or two every year. But for Price, this one was too big to brush off.

Here’s how Price has performed against the Yankees this year: He’s 0-2 with a 24.92 ERA (not a typo) and a 3.231 WHIP (also not a typo). He’s lasted 4.1 total innings across two starts.

Here’s how Price performed against the Yankees last year: He went 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA and a 1.462 WHIP.

Here’s how Price performed against the Yankees in 2016, his first year with Boston: He went 1-3 with a 7.89 ERA and a 1.787 WHIP.

In total, after signing the richest pitcher contract ever with the Red Sox, here’s how Price has performed against the Yankees: He’s 2-6 with an 8.43 ERA in nine starts.

And here’s how Price has performed against the Yankees in his entire professional career, most of which has been spent in the AL East: He has gone 15-13 with a 4.90 ERA and a 1.404 WHIP.

Among the teams against which he’s started at least 10 games, those are his second-highest ERA and WHIP numbers, better only than his 5.63 and 1.476 marks vs. the Rangers.

This year, though, Price’s season has not been fully defined by his performance against the Yankees. He’s actually performed quite well at times, though generally that’s come against the lesser teams in baseball.

This season, against teams with a winning percentage below .500, Price has gone 8-2 with a 3.82 ERA, a 1.209 WHIP, and 9.3 strikeouts per nine. He’s given up eight home runs in 63.2 innings pitched.

And against teams with a winning percentage .500 or better, Price has gone 3-4 with a 4.14 ERA, a 1.227 WHIP, and 8.1 strikeouts per nine. He’s given up 10 home runs in 58.2 innings pitched.

Add it all up, put it all together, take it comprehensively, and you’ve got a pitcher making $30 million who ranks 20th in the AL in ERA, 20th in the AL in WHIP, and tied for 19th in the AL with 12 quality starts. It’s that last mark — the quality start, a truly simple benchmark which should not be so difficult to clear more often than not — that perhaps reeks the most. If you can only get six innings and three or fewer runs in roughly half the starts, then what’s the point of this entire exercise?

To be sure, the entire three-year Boston career of David Price has not been the out-and-out disaster that it’s often made out to be. Even his 2018 campaign, for all its valleys, has had its share of peaks. He’s been … OK. Not great. Not good. But OK. Once upon a time, $30 million got you more than “just OK,” but anyone waiting for greatness at this point might want to start waiting at a new station. That train is never showing up.

But this weekend, with a potential chance to sort of bury the Yankees in the East, with the national baseball audience watching, and with his team’s ace stuck on the disabled list, Price has the opportunity to make the most of what should be as “pressure-free” of a “big game” as is ever possible. What he does with that opportunity will be up to him, but it should not ever be perceived as just another start for the $30 million man. This one matters a bit more.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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