The hard chopper bounced off first baseman Mitch Moreland’s glove and high into the air. Second baseman Brock Holt jumped to glove the ball and flipped it to first, where David Price was covering.
When the Boston Red Sox needed him, Price was there.
The one-time ace came out of the bullpen in relief of Drew Pomeranz and squelched a dangerous seventh-inning rally on Saturday, helping the Red Sox beat the Houston Astros, 6-3, and clinch the first back-to-back AL East titles in franchise history.
With the win, the Red Sox avoided a possible tiebreaker against the rival Yankees.
“That was important: Just get it done today,” outfielder Hanley Ramirez said afterward in the Red Sox clubhouse, where music blared, the lockers were covered in plastic and players wore goggles to protect their eyes from the spray of beer and wine.
With the Boston win, the Yankees were left with a wild-card spot and a one-game matchup against the Minnesota Twins for the right to play Cleveland in the best-of-five AL Division Series. The Astros’ loss meant the Indians, with the tiebreaker over Houston and 101 wins entering Saturday, clinched the best record in the AL.
Boston’s win set up an immediate rematch with the AL West champion Astros in the ALDS, starting Thursday in Houston.
“This is a good team across the way. We’re a good team. We’re both division champions,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “We’ll obviously see a lot of each other over the next 10 days.”
Boston leads the Yankees by two games with one to play, the remnants of what had been a five-game lead 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.
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.
“We get a chance to get a couple of days rest,” said manager John Farrell, who scratched Sale from Sunday’s start and said Hector Velazquez will pitch instead. “Chris is deserving of a couple of extra days to just get some rest.”
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 rallied against Carson Smith and made it 5-2 before Price came in.
Rockies clinch with Brewers loss
The Colorado Rockies sprayed soda around the clubhouse and even did a bit of dancing after clinching their first postseason berth since 2009.
Then, they had to go play a game — pressure free, of course.
Colorado sewed up the second NL wild-card spot courtesy of St. Louis’ 7-6 win over Milwaukee on Saturday afternoon. Former Rockies pitcher Juan Nicasio recorded the final out for the Cardinals.
The Rockies will face Arizona in the NL wild-card game Wednesday night.
Colorado fans trickling into Coors Field before the game against Los Angeles let out a roar after the final out. The Cardinals-Brewers game was shown on the scoreboard.
In the clubhouse, the Rockies wildly celebrated after gathering in front of a TV. Ian Desmond showered his teammates with soda, Jonathan Lucroy raised his hands in triumph, Nolan Arenado let out a scream and Carlos Gonzalez broke into a dance.
The team received an ovation from the crowd as it took the field. Colorado pushed back the first pitch by 21 minutes, calling it a weather delay, although no rain fell and the tarp wasn’t unrolled.
In an interview, Gonzalez simply said to the fans: “This feels really good. Excited for what’s next. Thanks!”
Gonzalez is the only player remaining from the ’09 squad that lost to Philadelphia in an NL Division Series.
“Eight years later, that’s crazy,” Gonzalez said. “It shows you it doesn’t matter all the talent you have, it’s all about being on the same page. Everybody has been pulling for each other since Day One.
“We believed we were a really good team. Sometimes, it’s just that simple for some players. You know, ‘Hey, you’re good. You can beat anybody.’ ”
The winner of the wild-card game in Arizona will meet Los Angeles in Game 1 of an NLDS on Friday at Dodger Stadium.