Sox history takes a left turn

David Price

(Brita Meng Outzen/Boston Red Sox)

Trades for Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett in the last 20 years have all led to World Series titles for the Red Sox, Martinez and Schilling winning in 2004, Beckett in 2007. Will the free-agent signing of David Price lead to another?

That’s one of the questions worth contemplating on a day that Price, signed to a seven-year, $217 million deal last winter, made his first start of the spring for the Red Sox Thursday afternoon against the Twins in JetBlue Park.

Dan Duquette made the deal with Montreal for Martinez. Theo Epstein acquired Schilling from Arizona, and Craig Shipley and the late Bill Lajoie did much of the work for Larry Lucchino that led to Beckett’s acquisition from the Florida Marlins.

Now it’s David Dombrowski, as Sox president of baseball operations, signing Price to the most lucrative deal in Sox history, one designed to carry Price through his age 36 season (He’ll be 37 at the end of the deal).

There are 11 pitchers in Red Sox history who have won 100 or more games in a Boston uniform, a list topped by Cy Young and Roger Clemens with 192 apiece.

Of the pitchers on that list, six came from other clubs. Young jumped from the St. Louis Cardinals to a new American League franchise, the Boston Americans, in 1901. Lefty Grove was purchased from the Philadelphia Athletics for $125,000 in 1934. Joe Dobson was 23 years old when he came from Cleveland in a three-team deal in 1940. Luis Tiant was signed in 1971 after being released by the Braves. Tim Wakefield was signed in 1995 after his release by the Pirates, and  Martinez was acquired from Montreal prior to the 1998 season.

Lefty GroveThe only left-hander imported from another club on that list was Grove, who was well on his way to enshrinement in Cooperstown when the Sox acquired him at age 34. He had gone 195-79 in nine seasons with the Athletics, winning 20 or more games in seven straight seasons and leading the American League in strikeouts in five straight. He also led the league in ERA five times for the Athletics, including four straight seasons.

But Athletics owner Connie Mack, looking for financial relief in the middle of the Depression, dealt Grove and pitcher Rube Walberg and infielder Max Bishop to the Sox, the $125,000 price equivalent to $2.2 million-plus today.

Grove’s transition to the Red Sox did not go smoothly. He developed a sore arm in March and went just 8-8 with a 6.50 ERA in his first season with the Sox. The deal was labeled a bust.

But it turns out that Grove, while acknowledging that his fastball was no longer the weapon it once was, still had enough to fashion an audacious second act. “A pitcher has time enough to get smarter after he loses his speed,” Grove’s biographer Jim Kaplan quoted the pitcher as saying, while explaining that the drop in velocity had actually helped his breaking pitches.

Grove would win ERA titles in four of his next five seasons with the Sox, a stretch that included his only 20-win season with the Sox, 1935. While the 1941 season will be forever remembered as the year Ted Williams was the last .400 hitter and Joe DiMaggio had a 56-game hitting streak, it was also the season in which Grove won his 300th game, a 10-6, complete-game win over the Indians on July 25 in Fenway Park. It would be his last victory in big-league baseball.

He remains the only pitcher to win his 300th game in a Red Sox uniform, and the only time Fenway Park has witnessed a 300th win.

Price, 30, enters this season with a 104-56 record and 3.09 ERA in eight seasons in the big leagues. He has led the league in ERA twice, strikeouts once and innings pitched once. Grove is the only left-hander ever imported here with greater credentials. Mel Parnell (123), Jon Lester (110) and Grove (105) are the only lefties to win 100 or more games in a Sox uniform. Price would have to average close to 15 wins a season to join their number, a tall order and one, of course, not entirely in his hands. How the team plays behind him is a determining factor as well.

But there is little question that No. 24 will have every chance to carve his own niche in club history.

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