HOUSTON -- For years, David Price was forced to carry around his postseason misfortunes as a nuisance that wouldn't go away in an otherwise decorated career. The lefty didn't hide from it. He just vowed over and over that the narrative would change at some point.
That point was Thursday night at Minute Maid Park, when Price pitched his Red Sox to the American League pennant with a marvelous performance on three days' rest in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series.
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Behind Price's first win in 12 career postseason starts -- and home runs by J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers -- Boston dethroned the defending World Series champion Astros with a 4-1 victory.
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It was sweet for everyone with the Red Sox, but it had to taste the best for Price, who went to sleep late Wednesday with a visualization that turned to reality.
"My last thought last night before I went to bed was probably a little bit different," Price said. "The night before I pitch, I'm just envisioning myself making pitches, and last night I envisioned myself doing this [clubhouse celebration] right here. Just going through my head, [I thought of] what I was going to say, and I'm happy that it happened."
Never again will Price have to talk about having zero playoff wins as a starter. The reality of that hit Price immediately, and that thought was sweeter for the 33-year-old than the champagne that drenched him repeatedly in the victorious clubhouse.
"That's cool. That's awesome," Price said. "I don't have to prepare myself for that in Spring Training, February 20th or when September rolls around every year and I've still got five regular-season starts left. I don't have to answer that question anymore, so that feels good."
Now it will be the Red Sox, led by rookie manager Alex Cora, who represent the AL in the World Series, which will start on Tuesday night at Fenway Park against the Dodgers or Brewers. This is the first trip to the Fall Classic since 2013 for Boston, which has a chance to win its fourth championship ('13, '07, '04) in 15 seasons since ending that infamous 86-year drought.
"Huge," said Martinez. "That's one of the best feelings in the world. To be bringing a World Series opportunity back to [the fans of Boston] and an American League championship to Boston, I'm sure they're going nuts back home."
Pitching on three days' rest after a start for the first time in his career -- and filling in for ace Chris Sale, who is recovering from a stomach illness -- Price mowed through the Astros, using a dominant changeup to keep them off-balance. Over six innings, the lefty allowed three hits and no runs while walking none and notching nine strikeouts, his career best in the postseason. Price threw 93 pitches and generated 15 swings and misses, 12 coming on changeups. He outdueled Houston ace Justin Verlander, who was on regular rest, by a wide margin.
"There was a lot of noise," said Cora. "I was saying today that -- I don't want to pick battles with the media, but I heard somebody today on TV just blasting David, blasting him, calling him the worst pitcher in the postseason. Yeah, the numbers are there, I know, but he was saying this -- he didn't hesitate, saying it was a bad matchup, one of the greatest against the worst and all that. I don't listen too much to what's going on outside, but that one got me."
This time, Price had the last laugh, and he soaked up every bit of it. After the trophy presentation, Price was the first player out of the Red Sox's clubhouse. He walked to a barricade where all the families of Boston's players were. When they saw Price, they all roared. Price hugged his wife, Tiffany, and held his 17-month-old son, Xavier.
"That's my rock, so that's cool," Price said of embracing his family.
Fittingly, the performance came one day shy of the 10th anniversary of Price's other signature moment in the playoffs, when he earned a clutch save for the Rays against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS. Cora started that night at shortstop for Boston. On Thursday, the manager enjoyed his 43rd birthday by watching Price dominate.
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This is Price's first trip to the World Series since that 2008 season, when he was a September callup and his team lost to the Phillies.
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To have it happen this way, just a day after Price threw 40 pitches in the bullpen in case he was needed in the late stages of a wild Game 4, was surreal.
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"He's right at the top step every time someone hits a home run," Martinez said of Price. "We all know his history and stuff like that, so for him, we're so proud of him. To be able to do what he did today on short rest, he picked us up. He carried us."
This ALCS was built up as a clash of the titans between clubs that combined for 211 wins during the regular season, and both looked imposing in the AL Division Series.
After losing Game 1, and looking disjointed in doing so, the Red Sox regained the dominance they displayed throughout much of the season and took four straight from the Astros, including the last two at Minute Maid Park. Boston is 5-0 on the road in this postseason, marking the first time it has won five straight road games in a single playoff run.
"We ran out of wins. We had a tough-fought series," said Houston manager AJ Hinch. "They took it to us. When you get two evenly matched teams up against each other, there's going to be swings in momentum and big at-bats and a little bit of luck, a little bit of bad luck. And they outplayed us. They did a really good job of having an excellent game plan and going and executing it and they were extremely tough."
Price came out dealing. In the fourth, he threw his second- and third-hardest pitches of the season (95.8 and 95.5 mph) during a strikeout of Carlos Correa.
The final pitch of the night for Price was a changeup that he struck out Jose Altuve. Knowing he was done for the night, and that his first postseason win as a starter was finally in his grasp, Price pumped his fist and shouted with joy as he went back to the dugout.
"Six shutout inning against the world champs with nine punchouts and three hits," said Price, reflecting on the excitement that hit him after he threw his final pitch.
With Cora's bullpen pretty well spent after a busy few days, he went to righty Matt Barnes for the first two outs of the seventh. After Marwin Gonzalez finally put the Astros on the board with a homer and Barnes walked Tony Kemp, starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi came out of the 'pen just two days after throwing 92 pitches in his win in Game 3. Eovaldi also took care of the eighth, and closer Craig Kimbrel finished it with his third save of the series, though the first two were more adventurous than he wanted.
"We found a few things last night after the game," said Kimbrel. "Some stuff I've been struggling with for a while. I feel like I was able to hone it in tonight, get back online and pitch like I'm supposed to."
Though the end result made it look like Boston won the series in a romp, it sure didn't start that way. When the Red Sox got to the ballpark for Game 2 at Fenway Park, there was an urgency to salvage a split before the ALCS shifted to Houston. Price started that game, and though he came one out shy of qualifying for the win, he made some big pitches and left with a lead. With the Sox winning Game 2, it marked the first time his team had won a postseason game he started. Price called it a baby step.
So what was the clinching victory in Game 5?
"A real step," said Price.
And for the Red Sox, the next step -- the biggest of them all -- is the World Series.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
J.D. strikes first: Martinez helped the Red Sox break out first for the fourth straight game, though they waited until the third inning this time. That was when Martinez smoked a one-out solo shot to left on a curveball in the upper part of the strike zone by Verlander. Martinez's first homer of the ALCS had a Statcast-projected exit velocity of 105.4 mph and traveled a projected 396 feet, clanging off a sign above the seats. The Sox are 80-5 this season when they score first, including 6-0 in the postseason.
"Huge, obviously," said Martinez. "He's one of those guys, you've got to get him rattled. You've got to have traffic. You've got to have something to just get him out of that groove. When he gets in that grove, he's tough, man. There's a reason he's one of the best pitchers in the game."
Devers strikes second: Martinez's missile was the only run of the game until the sixth. That was when Verlander served up a leadoff double to Mitch Moreland, a single by Ian Kinsler and then a huge three-run homer to the opposite field in left by Devers that gave Boston a 4-0 lead. Devers got enough of Verlander's 98.2-mph heater to get it over the wall. It wasn't an easy pitch to hit, as it had a 2,805 rpm spin rate. MLB hitters combined to hit just four home runs in the regular season off 4-seamers with 98+ mph and 2,600+ rpm.
"Devers hit his decent. It's unfortunate that it went out," said Verlander. "He put a decent swing on it. It's not until I get back and see the exit velo that I know it wasn't hit as good as I thought. He hit it well. But it's the Moreland one that was kind of debilitating, just out of the reach of the left fielder to lead off an inning, when we're already down a run. That's tough to deal with."
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With his third career homer in postseason play before the age of 22, Devers is tied for fourth all-time on that list with Andruw Jones, trailing only Mickey Mantle, Bryce Harper and Jose Cabrera, who all had four. Price became the first AL pitcher working on three or fewer days of rest to record at least six shutout innings in a postseason game since Mike Mussina for the Orioles in Game 6 of the 1997 ALCS against the Indians.
HE SAID IT
"It hasn't sunk in yet, honestly. It's something you dream about as a kid, playing in the World Series, and now we are. Our job's not finished yet. We still have four more wins. We're going to play a good team regardless of who we play. We're going to enjoy this tonight and get after that in two days." -- Andrew Benintendi, on going to the World Series