HOUSTON — David Price was warming up in the bullpen, ready to come in if Craig Kimbrel couldn’t get Alex Bregman for the final out of a rare six-out save in Game 4 of the ALCS Wednesday night.
That would determine whether Price started Game 5 or whether he’d be lost as a starter because he had to complete Kimbrel’s outing. Luckily for the Red Sox, Kimbrel managed to retire Bregman, though it took a sensational diving catch by Andrew Benintendi with the bases loaded.
Manager Alex Cora announced after the long, long game (4 hours 33 minutes) that Price would start opposite Houston’s Justin Verlander in Game 5. It could be the deciding game after the Red Sox’ 8-6 win at Minute Maid Park gave them a three-games-to-one lead in the series.
As Bregman’s sinking liner was caught by Benintendi, Price couldn’t see the whole play from his vantage point, but he soon learned that a more important role lay ahead for him.
“I don’t think I saw the ball hit the leather,” said Price. “I just kind of reacted to CB [Craig Bjornson], our bullpen coach. He let us know he caught it, and it was out, and that was a very big play.
“The other guys in the bullpen saw he caught it and relayed that message, and we all understood we’re one win away from going to that World Series, and that was huge.”
Before reporters knew that he had been named the Game 5 starter, Price played along with them.
He was asked, “Can you start?” He said, “Absolutely.”
He was asked, “Will you start?” He answered, “I can.”
Normally, if a pitcher is considered “hot” — meaning he has warmed up enough to be able to come into a game — it would mean he couldn’t start the next day. But not in this situation.
Not only is this a potential clinching game, but Chris Sale is still recovering from his stomach ailment and can’t start. He was pushed back to a Game 6 Saturday, if there is one.
Asked how many pitches he threw in the bullpen, Price said, “I don’t count those. I don’t know. The first ones are just to get loose, and if we would have scored two in the top of the ninth, I would have went out there for the ninth inning, and they got pretty close. I think it was [Josh] Reddick that made a good play in right [robbing Mookie Betts], so I was ready.”
Cora said that Price, who also was up in the eighth, could have come into the game in that inning when Kimbrel struggled and gave up a run.
“He was going to come in if it was worse than what it was,” Cora said. “If they would have scored two, he was also going to come in, and if they would have scored in the ninth because of the long inning, he would have come in.
“But it didn’t happen. And now tomorrow he’ll start.
“I had confidence in him coming in tonight in a tight game. We’re good with him. He’s prepared. He understands what’s going on. He understands that Chris can’t go tomorrow, and he’s ready to take the ball.”
Suffice to say, this will be one of the most important starts of Price’s career. He could wrap up the American League pennant and put to bed those awful numbers that say he has never won in 11 postseason starts. He will have to defeat his former Tiger teammate Verlander, and he’ll have to do it on short rest.
Price seemed genuinely excited about the challenge.
“Yeah, absolutely, to have that opportunity to punch our ticket to the World Series is very cool,” he said.
Asked what he was rooting for — coming in as a reliever to finish Game 4 or to start Game 5 — Price said the right thing: “Close it out today and start tomorrow and do something special.”
But it will be on three days’ rest.
“I’ll be all right,” he said. “It’s cool to be a part of. We’re one win away from the World Series. That’s cool. That’s very cool.”
Having to warm up the day before he starts will “just make me a little more sharp for tomorrow,” he said. “It might be a new thing for me to do the day before I pitch.”
Second baseman Brock Holt said he has faith that Price will give the Sox a chance to stay in the game and give the offense a chance to do their thing.
“We all have great trust and faith in David,” Holt said. “He’s a professional pitcher. One of the best in the game.
“It’s unfortunate Chris can’t go, but we know we’re in good hands with David. I know how much he wants to do this and how much we want to do it for him.
“What people don’t understand sometimes is what a great teammate he is and how much the guys in this room love him. He’s so supportive of everyone in here. We’d like for him to experience the chance to clinch this thing right here.”
Price will have to be at his best for as long as he can go. The Astros are facing elimination in front of their hometown crowd, so they will bring all they have. The Sox bullpen won’t be in the best shape either with Ryan Brasier and Kimbrel likely out of commission.
But the 3-1 series lead gives Cora a chance to take some chances with his bullpen. Maybe use Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman after Price. Maybe even use Eduardo Rodriguez.
But Price can’t think about who’s pitching behind him. He knows he has a great opportunity to win over the Red Sox fan base. Pitching well in a clinching game will help do that.
With only three days’ rest, Price gets to show his grit and his determination to gut it out and display some intestinal fortitude.
It’s not a must-win, but it’s a win Price must have.