By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The moment David Price signed his name to his $217 million dollar deal, he was agreeing to become the ace of the Red Sox pitching staff. Somewhere along the way — namely when the team traded for Chris Sale in December of 2016 — those responsibilities were quietly removed from Price’s shoulders.

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But the fact that price slid in to a de facto number two role shouldn’t obscure from another fact.

The guy should be able to deliver like an ace.

And now, for the second time in less than a week, he was unable to do that.

Against the Rays.

Of Tampa Bay.


Matched up against Cy Young candidate Charlie Morton for the second time in six days, Price was once again staked to a lead — 2-0 in the bottom of the first, and then 3-1 in the bottom of the third. Yet Price very quickly allowed that lead to evaporate in the fifth, allowing first-pitch, no-doubt bombs to Travis d’Arnaud and Avisail Garcia. He then allowed consecutive hits — a single to Michael Brosseau and a double to Nate Lowe — before being lifted from the game.

Last Thursday in Tampa, Price was given a 2-0 lead in the third before he allowed a solo homer in the fourth and then allowed three consecutive hits to start the fifth, allowing the tying and go-ahead (and eventual winning) runs to cross the plate without recording an out in the fifth inning. He’d make it through the sixth but took the loss.

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This time, once again matched up against the team directly ahead of the Red Sox in the wild-card race, and once again after his time had built a multiple-run lead against a pitcher sitting squarely among the Cy Young favorites, Price lasted just 4.1 innings. Marcus Walden got Eric Sogard to ground out in that fifth, which allowed Brosseau to cross the plate to give Tampa a 4-3 lead, thus putting Price on the hook.

Price didn’t end up taking the loss (the bullpen took care of that), but for his second straight outing, he failed to hold a lead against a Tampa Bay team that ranks ninth in the AL in runs scored, 10th in home runs and ninth in team OPS. Forget about pitching like an ace; Price did not perform at an even passable MLB level in this one.

“When the guys go out there against a really good pitcher, a guy that’s leading our league in ERA and they give me that lead, to give that lead right back right after, that’s tough,” Price said after the eventual 6-5 loss, per “It’s been a grind over my past five or six starts. Outs are tough to get. It’s been tough just throwing strikes. Physically, today was the best I’ve felt in a while. I feel like I have some stuff to address these next four days before I pitch in New York [on Sunday Night Baseball], but I think it’s going to get better.”

When taking the blame, Price included his past five starts. That may have been by design. Really, the major issues have sprung up in his last three starts, a time frame that coincides with his completely unnecessary public heckling of team broadcaster and Baseball Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley.

Ever since promising that things would be “lit” and delivering a speech about how he has more friends than Eckersley, Price has been — in a word — awful. He was absolutely shelled in Baltimore by the worst team in baseball, allowing six earned runs on eight hits and a walk while lasting just four innings. Last week in Tampa, he surrendered the aforementioned 2-0 lead while allowing three runs over six innings.

Add in Tuesday night’s performance, and Price is now 0-2 with an 8.16 ERA since deciding to roast Eckersley on his friend count. While some may roll their eyes upon seeing the connection of poor performance on the field with that poor performance off the field, Price has nevertheless invited that spotlight onto himself when he decided to restoke a fire that went out years ago.

Yet, even leaving that aside, the fact is that Price had two opportunities this week to live up to his contract, to live up to his capabilities, and to live up to the distinction he earned through the first half of this season as the best starter on the Red Sox staff. Instead, given the chance to pick up a win over the likely Cy Young winner and vault the Red Sox past the Rays in the standings, Price couldn’t get out of the fifth inning. Against the Rays.

These are the games that $31 million pitchers are supposed to win. These are the moments where they’re supposed to lift their team. This is the time of year where the pressure can be felt a little bit more. Thus far, through three starts, two of which came against the team directly in front of the Red Sox in the standings, Price has been unable to deliver.

Really, $31 million doesn’t get you what it used to.

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