The crowd of 35,722 at Fenway Park cheered loudly when David Price came out of the bullpen in the seventh inning. The volume only increased from there.
Price picked up three crucial outs, snuffing out a rally by the Houston Astros by striking out All-Star George Springer with the bases loaded.
Price’s clutch performance helped lead to a 6-3 victory for the Red Sox that wrapped up the American League East championship.
Manager John Farrell did not expect to have Price available for the game. The lefthander had pitched twice in the previous three days, including 1⅔ innings on Friday night.
But Price told Farrell he was available after playing catch before the game. The manager then plotted out when best to use him.
With the Sox leading, 5-0, Drew Pomeranz allowed a leadoff single by Jose Altuve in the seventh. With three righthanded hitters coming up, Farrell went to Carson Smith, who had pitched unexpectedly well in seven games since returning from Tommy John surgery,
But Smith did not have it. Carlos Correa, Evan Gattis, and Yuli Gurriel had singles as the Astros cut the deficit to 5-2.
Price was next. Brian McCann hit the second pitch he saw sharply on the ground. It deflected off Mitch Moreland’s glove at first base and popped into the air. Second baseman Brock Holt jumped to catch the ball and threw to Price, who alertly was covering first.
Price struck out Cameron Maybin then walked pinch hitter Tyler White. With the bases loaded, Springer represented the go-ahead run.
Farrell came to the mound to talk to Price, and Addison Reed started to jog in from the bullpen. Farrell had not called for Reed. He just wanted to discuss how to pitch to Springer.
“I can understand why Reed came in. That was the first time all season I came to the mound without making a move,” Farrell said.
Springer has 34 home runs this season, one a grand slam. But Price struck him out on three pitches, all two-seam fastballs.
In five relief appearances, Price has pitched 8⅔ scoreless innings and struck out 13 with two walks. Opponents are 3 for 29 (.103) against him.
“He’s one hell of a pitcher,” Sox principal owner John Henry said.
Price was on the disabled list twice this season, missing just over three months with elbow issues. He also drew ire for criticizing NESN broadcaster Dennis Eckersley during a team flight in June.
Now Price is poised to play what could be a critical role in the postseason.
“We knew the calendar was ticking away and we felt this was the most logical path for him to come back to us,” Farrell said. “It’s been a challenging year for him by his own admission. But you know what? He’s a talented pitcher and we’re using him at the right time.”
After the game, Price celebrated with his teammates before bringing his wife and infant son into the clubhouse along with his parents. Xavier Price, only four months old, was smiling once his father picked him up.
Johnson moves forward
Brian Johnson finally made it to Fenway Park in September, just not the way he hoped.
The 26-year-old lefthander was at the game to receive the Lou Gorman Award, which goes to a minor league player who demonstrated perseverance in getting to the majors.
Johnson made his debut in 2015, making one start. He then overcame injuries and a bout with anxiety to return this season and make five more.
Johnson was 2-0 with a 4.33 earned run average and the Sox won all five of his starts. Johnson’s contributions included a shutout of Seattle on May 27.
But the Sox did not recall Johnson when rosters expanded on Sept. 1. They went with Hector Velazquez as a spare starter instead. He will start on Sunday.
Johnson was left disappointed.
“Those decisions aren’t made by me,” Johnson said. “Surprised? I would say yeah. But I get it; I understand it. That’s part of it.”
The Sox wanted Johnson to go to the Arizona Fall League and work out of the bullpen. But he declined, as was his right to do.
“I didn’t see the need for it,” he said. “I feel like it’s an easy transition to the pen and I can do that in spring training.”
Johnson is out of minor league options, so if he doesn’t make the team out of spring training it is likely he lands elsewhere.
“I don’t know what my role will be. It’s just opportunity at this point,” Johnson said. “I get it. It’s tough when you’re with the Boston Red Sox. When the opportunity presents itself, you’ve got to go to work.”
The grass at Fenway Park was soaked by a morning rain, which led Farrell to take Dustin Pedroia out of the lineup and go with Holt at second base.
Farrell did not want to risk Pedroia slipping and further injuring his left knee. The Sox have been giving Pedroia frequent days off since he returned from the DL on Sept. 1.
The hope is that once the playoffs start, the built-in days off will allow Pedroia to play all of the games.
Take a break
Had the Sox not clinched, Chris Sale would have started Sunday. Now he will be held out until Game 1 of the Division Series in Houston on Thursday. Sale is 5-1 with a 1.31 ERA in six career starts against the Astros. He last faced them on July 2, 2016 . . . Xander Bogaerts extended his hit streak to nine games with a double in the fifth inning . . . The Sox are 3-3 against the Astros this season . . . There was no outdoor batting practice because of the rain. The plan for Eduardo Nunez is to work out on the field Sunday. That will include base running. The Sox believe he will be ready for Game 1. Nunez has played only one game since Sept. 9 because of a sprained right knee . . . It was 57 degrees at first pitch, the coldest game at Fenway since May 25, when it was 52.