BOSTON — David Price came on in relief of Drew Pomeranz and squelched a dangerous seventh-inning rally to help the Boston Red Sox beat the Houston Astros 6-3 on Saturday, clinching the first back-to-back AL East titles in franchise history.
The Red Sox avoided the possibility of a one-game tiebreaker with the rival Yankees, and instead left New York with a wild-card spot. Boston also set up an immediate rematch with the Astros in the playoffs.
Boston leads New York by two games with one to play. The lead had been five games when the Red Sox returned to Fenway Park for a season-ending homestand; a loss Saturday — coupled with the Yankees’ 2-1 win over Toronto — would have forced Boston to use Chris Sale on the final day of the season to avoid a tiebreaker on Monday.
Now the Red Sox can rest their ace for the best-of-five Division Series against the AL West champion Astros, which will start in Houston on Thursday. The AL East has not had needed a one-game playoff since Bucky Dent’s homer cleared the Green Monster to help the Yankees eliminate Boston in 1978.
The Yankees will host Minnesota in the wild-card game Tuesday, with the winner playing at Cleveland in the ALDS.
Mookie Betts homered and scored three times, and Pomeranz (17-6) had a two-hit shutout through six innings. With a heavy rain beginning to fall in the top of the seventh, the Astros scored two runs before Price struck out George Springer with the bases loaded to end the threat.
Pomeranz allowed one run on three hits and two walks, striking out three.
With one hit in four at-bats, Jose Altuve’s major league-leading batting average fell one point, to .347.
Brian McCann homered off Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth to make it 6-3. Cameron Maybin then doubled before Kimbrel struck out Tony Kemp and Springer to end it.
Lance McCullers (7-4), who was pitching for a spot in the postseason rotation, allowed five runs on six hits and two walks, striking out six in 4 1/3 innings.
The Astros’ loss meant Cleveland, with 101 wins entering Saturday and the tiebreaker over Houston, clinched the best record in the AL.
With two in and two on, nobody out and the tying run at the plate in the Houston seventh, McCann hit a chopper toward first that Mitch Moreland couldn’t handle. It bounced off his glove and high into the air, but second baseman Brock Holt leaped to catch it, then threw to Price covering first base for the 3-4-1 out.
Price struck out Maybin and walked pinch-hitter Tyler White to load the bases before fanning Springer looking on three pitches to end the threat.
Astros: RF Josh Reddick (sore back) remained in Houston. He missed his third straight game.
Red Sox: 2B Dustin Pedroia was scratched on Saturday morning because of concerns over how the wet conditions might affect his sore left knee.
The teams finish out the regular season on Sunday. With all positions clinched and the teams expecting to face each other, Dallas Keuchel will not start. Instead, he will throw a simulated game and be replaced by RHP Collin McHugh. Chris Sale had been scheduled to start for the Red Sox.