HOUSTON — The relentless Red Sox won the pennant on Thursday night, beating the defending world champion Houston Astros, 4-1, in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. The Sox open the 114th World Series Tuesday at Fenway Park vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers or Milwaukee Brewers.
Winners of 115 games, the Sox are trying to become the first team of the 21st century to win four World Series. In October of 2018, they’ve erased the 100-win Yankees and the 103-win Astros, winning seven of nine playoff games, including five straight on the road.
And here are the words you thought you’d never read . . .
The Sox clinched the pennant on the strength of six innings of stellar, pressure-packed pitching from the much-maligned David Price.
That’s right. On three days’ rest, filling in for ace Chris Sale, matched up against the best postseason pitcher of this generation (Justin Verlander), Price hurled six shutout innings, giving up three hits, striking out nine, and walking none. In the most important game of his Red Sox career, Price finally won a postseason start. It was his first scoreless outing in 12 playoff starts and he did it after warming up feverishly in the eighth and ninth innings of Wednesday’s epic Game 4 Red Sox victory.
“One of the most special days I’ve ever had on a baseball field,’’ Price said as he held his young son in his lap at the postgame podium. “So I’m very excited . . . It’s very special for all of us. It’s something that AC [manager Alex Cora] talked about in spring training . . . To do what we did in New York and to beat the reigning champs. That was very special for all of us . . . I definitely felt good on the mound. Continued to tell myself to stay in the moment. I was able to do that tonight.’’
“He’s never going to forget it,’’ said ALCS MVP Jackie Bradley Jr. “I know I’m not.’’
“I don’t want to pick battles in the media,’’ said Cora. “But I was watching a show this morning on MLB Network and it was embarrassing the way they were talking about David Price and I was offended by that . . . That one got me. When he was throwing 94 tonight, I thought of that.’’
Wow. In Nixonian fashion, I must ask, “What will we do now that we don’t have David Price to kick around anymore?’’ WEEI and The Sports Hub might have to switch to 24/7 Kenny G programming for a few days. I know it’s got me off my game.
The near-biblical redemption of David Price is a better local sports story than the redemption of John Lackey in 2013. Shoot, it’s a probably better tale than “The Shawshank Redemption.” Price has been our local hard-ball pinata since he signed a $217 million contract with the Sox three years ago. He’s been widely mocked as a softie, addicted to Fortnite, armed with excuses, and unable to perform in the clutch. He hit rock bottom when he verbally ambushed the beloved Dennis Eckersley in the summer of 2017, then refused to apologize.
Meanwhile, his postseason failures have been memorialized like “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.’’ In the first 11 starts of his postseason career, Price went 0-9. In his first 19 overall playoff appearances he was 2-9 with a 5.42 ERA. In a sport that worships Mr. October, Mr. Price was Mr. May, Mr. June, and Mr. July.
Then came Game 5 against the world champs at Minute Maid Park.
There was little chance that any game could live up to the drama we saw in the 4-hour-33-minute epic that ended after 1 a.m. (ET) on Thursday. The baseball world was still buzzing about Andrew Benintendi’s game-saving catch when the teams gathered for Game 5.
The Verlander-Price matchup featured a duel of former Tigers teammates and former Cy Young winners.
It also was a joust of two men with entirely different postseason reputations.
Verlander is Mr. Elimination Game. One of the most accomplished postseason pitchers in history, Mr. Kate Upton came into the night with a streak of 24 scoreless innings in games in which his team had to win or go home. He extended that streak to 26 before J.D. Martinez took him over the wall in the third.
Price came into the game with the George Costanza Bizarro World opposite reputation. Price was so historically bad in the playoffs, he was practically hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates after struggling (four runs, five hits, four walks) for 4⅔ innings of his start against the Astros last Sunday. When Price left that game with a lead, and the Sox went on to win, it was something of a breakthrough.
Game 5 was a House Money game for Price and birthday boy Cora (43). Knowing Boston would be facing Verlander, Cora emptied his vault in Game 4. Sweat-soaked closer Craig Kimbrel staggered through his first six-out save of the year, Price warmed up throughout the eighth and ninth, and Cora was prepared to make Game 5 a bullpen game if necessary. With three chances to win once, facing Verlander in Houston in Game 5, it seemed like a sound strategy.
Led by Cowboy Joe West — New England’s new Walt Coleman — the six MLB umpires were loudly booed when they came out for the pregame exchange of lineup cards.
With one out in the third, Martinez launched a 1-and-2 breaking ball far over the left field fence. It was a no-doubter. Even for West.
Scoring first has been good for the Red Sox in this postseason. The Sox are 7-0 when they score the first run of the game.
“They took it to us and they won games,’’ said Houston manager A.J. Hinch. “They outplayed us.’’
Price got into a groove after the second. He struck out the side in the fourth and got the Astros 1-2-3 in the fifth. After baby-faced Rafael Devers made it 4-0 with a three-run homer in the sixth, Price got the side in order again in the bottom of the inning. He retired the last seven batters he faced and turned the 4-0 lead over to the bullpen in the seventh.
“It was good in the bullpen warming up and it got better as the game went on,’’ said Price.
“It shows the competitor that he is,’’ said Bradley.
“You can talk about the David Price struggles all you want,’’ said Hinch. “He’s been tough on us. And that was as hard as we’ve seen him throw against us. You could tell how much it meant to him.’’
Matt Barnes surrendered a homer to Marwin Gonzalez, but Nathan Eovaldi and Kimbrel cleaned up the final 2⅓ innings and it was time for yet another champagne bath.
David Price and the Red Sox were on their way to the World Series.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.