Arguably the worst postseason starter in baseball history, Price shut out a flat Houston Astros team for six innings Thursday night en route to a 4-1 victory in a pennant-clinching Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. The Red Sox, who won a franchise-record 108 games during the regular season, will host the winner of the Los Angeles Dodgers–Milwaukee Brewers National League Championship Series in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday.
The 33-year-old Price, working on three days’ rest, kept the Astros off-balance with an inside-and-outside, up-and-down command of the strike zone. He struck out nine, walked none and allowed three hits, with 65 of his 93 pitches going for strikes. His changeup, in particular, was devastatingly effective, inducing 11 swings and misses, including four for strikeouts.
“As always with David, it’s command,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “Regardless if it’s three days’ rest, four or 10. It’s all about command.”
Price rode a wave of derision into the game, as in his previous 11 postseason starts he had gone 0-9 with an ERA over 6.00. That Price – the one who never could put in a solid, start-to-finish October start – never showed up. The Price who nearly 10 years ago to the day sent the Tampa Bay Rays to the World Series with 1 1/3 dominant innings of relief to close out a seven-game ALCS win against the Red Sox was there instead, only in extended format.
He needed help, of course, and he received it via a pair of home runs. The first, from J.D. Martinez in the third inning off former teammate Justin Verlander, pushed the Red Sox ahead, 1-0. The pitch after home-plate umpire Chris Guccione called a ball on a slider clearly in the strike zone, Martinez punished a Verlander curveball into the left-field stands. The lead held until third baseman Rafael Devers delivered the decisive blow with a three-run, opposite-field, Minute Maid Park special to put the Astros ahead, 4-0.
Houston, the defending World Series champion, tried to stem bleeding that had festered since its Game 1 victory. Marwin González hit a solo home run off Matt Barnes, who relieved Price in the seventh. Cora turned to Nathan Eovaldi, his projected Game 7 starter, sensing an opportunity to bury the Red Sox. With a five-pitch mix unlike anyone in the game – in Game 5 he threw a 102-mph fastball, 96-mph cutter, 91-mph splitter, 88-mph slider, 80-mph curveball – Eovaldi recorded four outs, providing a bridge to closer Craig Kimbrel.
A night after he recorded the first six-out save of his career, Kimbrel was back. And unlike any of his previous four outings this postseason, he worked through a scoreless inning, securing the final three outs to send Boston to its fourth World Series in 15 seasons.
The Red Sox won the previous three, and they have an array of people to thank for this opportunity. President Dave Dombrowski, who raided a deep farm system to acquire frontline major league players. Cora, the rookie manager, around whom the team has coalesced. Mookie Betts, the AL MVP favorite, and Martinez, the savviest free-agent signing of the winter. Chris Sale, who was supposed to start Game 5 until a stomach ailment sent him to the hospital and pushed his start back until a Game 6 that never happened. Dozens of others. Including, of course, David Price.
“To have that opportunity to punch our ticket to the World Series, that’s very cool,” he said the night before the biggest – and best – start of his career. “That is neat.”
As the Red Sox celebrated in front of a deflated sellout crowd of 43,210, neat only began to describe it. Beating the team that stationed a person among photographers during Game 1 to surreptitiously record their dugout. Ousting, with four straight victories, an Astros team that won 103 games itself. Moving to 5-0 in road games this October. It was neat, yes, but it was so much more. And starting Tuesday, with the Boston Red Sox in the World Series again, it can get even better.
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