HOUSTON — It was 10 years ago Friday that rookie David Price, a hard-throwing 23-year-old, pitched 1 1⁄3 innings and earned the save as the Rays held off the Red Sox in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
It was mostly downhill for Price in his postseason life thereafter, even as he emerged as one of the best lefthanded starters of his generation.
“I don’t really have an answer,” Price said before Game 2 of this season’s ALCS in analyzing his many October failures. “I feel like I’ve given some answers the past eight years. But I really don’t have an answer for it.”
On short rest Thursday night in Game 5, Price came up with all the right answers. Utilizing a dazzling changeup in six brilliant scoreless innings, he helped the Red Sox advance to the World Series with a 4-1 victory that dethroned the defending world champion Astros at mostly quiet Minute Maid Park.
“David’s freakin’ awesome, man,” said J.D. Martinez, whose homer off Justin Verlander in the third gave Boston a 1-0 lead. “As a teammate, as a person, he’s one of those guys who’s always rooting for you. We all know his history and stuff like that, so for him, we’re so proud of him to do what he did tonight and on such short rest. He carried us today.”
Boston, which won its 14th pennant and first since 2013, will have home-field advantage in the World Series, which will start Tuesday night at Fenway Park against the Dodgers or Brewers.
The Red Sox, who won four straight against the Astros after dropping Game 1, improved to 5-0 on the road in this postseason, in which they also dispatched the Yankees in four games in the Division Series. With the Astros’ ouster, the 1998-2000 Yankees remain the last team to successfully defend a title.
Price, a much-discussed 0-9 with a 6.03 ERA in 11 postseason starts before Thursday, allowed three hits and no walks and struck out nine, a playoff best for him. “Last night when I went to bed,” he said, “I envisioned myself doing this right here.”
In reaching the World Series for the first time since 2008 with the Rays, Price outdueled Astros ace Verlander, who had been 13-6 with a 3.08 ERA in the postseason, including 4-1 with a 1.21 ERA in five elimination games.
Verlander wasn’t bad but was taken deep twice — by Martinez, an MVP candidate who had 43 homers and 130 RBIs this season, and by Rafael Devers, who hit an opposite-field three-run homer in the sixth that made it 4-0.
Marwin Gonzalez’s homer off Matt Barnes in the seventh made it 4-1, but Nathan Eovaldi, terrific in a Game 3 start, pitched a scoreless 1 1⁄3 innings. Craig Kimbrel, a mess this postseason, walked Yuli Gurriel with one out in the ninth. He struck out Gonzalez looking and got Tony Kemp to fly to deep left-center to end it.
Jackie Bradley Jr., who had a three-run double in Game 2, a grand slam in Game 3 and a go-ahead two-run homer in Game 4, was named the series MVP. He was more interested in discussing Price.
“From pitch one,” Bradley said, “I just had that feeling tonight was going to be that night for him.”
Price, who allowed four runs, five hits and four walks in 4 2⁄3 innings Sunday in Game 2, initially wasn’t even supposed to start Game 5; that nod was supposed to go to Chris Sale. But Sale, who started Game 1 Saturday, was hospitalized with a stomach illness Sunday and physically wasn’t quite up to making the start (the lefthander would have gone in Game 6).
Before Game 5, Alex Cora — who turned 43 Thursday and received quite a present in the form of a pennant in his first year as manager after serving as the Astros’ bench coach last season — predicted Price would be “up to the challenge.”
Said Cora afterward: “There was a lot of noise [about Price’s postseason failures]. I heard somebody today on TV just blasting David, blasting him, calling him the worst pitcher in the postseason. But you know what? I’m happy that David showed up today. And tomorrow we can turn the page and move on to the World Series with David Price.”