HOUSTON — On the nights before David Price starts a baseball game, he usually envisions himself on the mound executing good pitches to dangerous batters. But as he prepared to go to sleep the night before Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, knowing he had never won a postseason start before, Price took a new approach.
He skipped past the images of nasty pitches and frustrated hitters and went right to the postgame celebration.
“My last thought before I went to bed was a little different,” he said as he stood in the victorious Boston Red Sox clubhouse, wiping champagne from his eyes. “Last night I envisioned myself doing this right here, going through my head what I was going to say and how happy I’d be doing it.”
In arguably the best game of his life, Price led the Red Sox to a 4-1 victory over the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the A.L.C.S., to clinch the series, four games to one, and capture the team’s 14th American League pennant.
It was the first time in his 11-year career that Price, a 33-year-old left-hander, won a postseason start.
“It’s one of the most special days I’ve ever had on the baseball field,” he said.
His next start will be in the World Series, against either the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Milwaukee Brewers, beginning on Tuesday at Fenway Park. Whatever happens, a new World Series winner will be crowned because the defending champion Astros were simply overwhelmed by the Red Sox.
Houston won the first game at Fenway Park but the rampaging Red Sox won the next four, including the final three at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. They also won the two road games of their previous playoff series against the Yankees in the Bronx, and are 7-2 over all in the A.L. playoffs against two 100-win teams.
“They took it to us,” Houston Manager A.J. Hinch said.
He added, “They never stop coming at you. They are a relentless group.”
Jackie Bradley Jr., who drove in nine runs in the series, was named Most Valuable Player of the A.L.C.S., but in Game 5 the offense came from J.D. Martinez, who hit a solo home run in the third inning off the Astros starter Justin Verlander, and Rafael Devers, who slammed a three-run shot off Verlander in the sixth.
Verlander has a reputation as a clutch postseason pitcher, but he was out-dueled by Price, whose reputation was much the opposite. In 11 previous postseason starts, Price was 0-9 and his teams had lost 10 of those games. In Game 2 of the A.L.C.S. on Sunday, the Red Sox became the first team to win a postseason game that Price started, although he did not earn the win in that game.
He called it “baby steps,” at the time, and on Thursday said that Game 5 was, “a real step.”
He went six innings, allowed three hits and no walks, and struck out nine batters with 93 pitches, and he was doing it all on short rest. Price started Game 2 in Boston on Sunday and was originally scheduled to make his next start in Game 6, if it happened. But when Chris Sale, Boston’s ace, got sick on Sunday, Manager Alex Cora asked Price to fill in on three days of rest, instead of the usual four, for Game 5.
Price also threw 40 pitches in the bullpen during Game 4, so with the short rest and workload from the night before, there was some uncertainty about how effective he would be. But he answered those questions emphatically early on by striking out two batters in the first inning, including Carlos Correa, who was left looking at a 91-mile-per-hour cut fastball to end that frame.
Houston’s first baseman, Yuli Gurriel, doubled in the fourth, but Price struck out Marwin Gonzalez for his third strikeout of that inning and his seventh of the game. In the fifth, he set down the Astros in order, getting another strikeout and putting himself in position to earn the win.
The last batter he faced was Jose Altuve, whom he struck out with an 87-mile-per-hour changeup.
“He showed up tonight,” said Andrew Benintendi, the Red Sox left fielder. “He went out there on short rest with all of that stuff and shoved. It was fun to watch.”
After Price left the game, Cora, a first-year manager who celebrated his 43rd birthday on Thursday with a pennant, turned the ball over to Matt Barnes and Nathan Eovaldi for the seventh and eighth innings. Then Cora called on Craig Kimbrel, the closer who pitched two innings the night before. Kimbrel was not sharp in that game and had it not been for Benintendi’s game-ending diving catch with the bases loaded, the Red Sox might have lost.
But Cora said the Red Sox had discovered that Kimbrel was tipping his pitches for about two weeks, meaning that opponents could tell which pitch he was about to throw. Kimbrel fixed the problem and with one runner on base and two outs Thursday, he induced a long fly ball from Tony Kemp.
Benintendi went all the way back to the warning track and caught the ball. The Red Sox began to jump and hug one another in celebration of their 13th World Series appearance in franchise history and fourth this century.
Of all the celebrants in the clubhouse, Price seemed the happiest. He has had a tumultuous three years in Boston, where many fans view him negatively, in large part due to his lack of postseason success.
But as teammates continued to douse him with champagne, Price could barely contain his glee that he would no longer be asked about never winning a postseason start.
“I don’t have to prepare myself for it in spring training, on Feb. 24 or when September rolls around and I’ve still got five regular season starts to go,” he said. “I don’t have to answer that question anymore.”
For Price, it was like a vision come to life.