Happiness is reality minus expectations. Starting on three days rest, less than 24 hours after warming up in the eighth and ninth innings of Game 4, David Price delivered a masterful performance -- firing six shutout innings with a career-high nine strikeouts -- to propel the Red Sox to a series-clinching 4-1 victory in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday. In the most unlikely scenario imaginable, the embattled 33-year-old southpaw outdueled Astros ace Justin Verlander to exorcise his postseason demons, silence his vocal critics and send Boston back to the World Series for the first time since 2013.
Leaning heavily on a deceptive changeup, Price kept the defending World Series champion Astros formidable lineup off balance and off the scoreboard for six stellar frames. More importantly, he soaked up innings and prevented manager Alex Cora from being forced to turn to his depleted bullpen in the early stages of the contest. When he finally departed, the Red Sox were just nine outs away from the World Series. Considering the exceptionally low expectations for Price, from a workload and performance standpoint entering the contest, the stage seemed to be set for another vintage October performance from Verlander. The 35-year-old right-hander saw his elimination game streak of 26 consecutive scoreless innings, the longest in postseason history, snapped on a go-ahead solo homer by his former Tigers teammate J.D. Martinez in the third inning. The Red Sox tacked on a trio of insurance runs courtesy of an opposite-field, three-run blast by third baseman Rafael Devers in the sixth inning.
By the time Houston finally got on the scoreboard, thanks to a solo homer by Marwin Gonzalez off Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes in the seventh inning, it was too late. By that stage in the game, Cora decided that he wasn’t taking any more chances. He turned to Nathan Eovaldi, arguably the teams best pitcher over the last two weeks, with two outs in the seventh. The 28-year-old flamethrowing righty recorded the final out of the frame and hurled a scoreless eighth before closer Craig Kimbrel was summoned to record the final three outs. Less than 24 hours after throwing 34 pitches in his first-ever six-out save, the 30-year-old stopper worked around a one-out walk to slam the door.
There will be plenty of time to reflect on the Astros incredible two-year run later this offseason, but the essential components of the championship core remain intact to make another deep run next year. Through a blend of elite plate discipline and power, third baseman Alex Bregman evolved into one of the best hitters in the game this season. After an injury-marred campaign, shortstop Carlos Correa will be back at 100 percent next spring. The same applies to veteran superstars, second baseman Jose Altuve and center fielder George Springer, who dealt with their share of injuries throughout the regular season and postseason. In addition to Verlander, hard-throwing righty Gerrit Cole will be back at the front of the rotation as well. It may be time for the Astros to reload, but they’re far from finished as contenders in the American League moving forward.
The 2018 World Series will start in Fenway Park on Tuesday night. Barring an unforeseen setback, Red Sox ace Chris Sale, who was able to throw off flat ground on Thursday, should be ready to start Game 1. It remains to be seen who he will be facing from the senior circuit. After posting back-to-back dramatic victories in Southern California, the Dodgers have an opportunity to close out the Brewers and punch their ticket to the World Series with left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu on the mound in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Friday Night. The 31-year-old left-hander, who allowed two runs on six hits over 4 1/3 innings in Game 2 last Saturday, remains one of the most underrated pitchers in the game. Meanwhile, Milwaukee will counter with southpaw Wade Miley, who faced just one batter before being lifted in Game 5 earlier this week. A Brewers’ victory would force a decisive Game 7 in Miller Park on Saturday night.
Quick Hits: Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. was named MVP of the 2018 ALCS … Astros manager A.J. Hinch told reporters before Game 5 of the ALCS on Thursday that Jose Altuve (knee) wouldn't be playing if it was the regular season … Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters Thursday that Austin Barnes will start at catcher in Game 6 of the NLCS on Friday … Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman underwent surgery on his left thumb Thursday … Yankees GM Brian Cashman said Wednesday that Jacoby Ellsbury is “supposed to be fully recovered” from his left hip surgery by the start of the 2019 season … Bob Elliott of CBC Sports reports that the Blue Jays have interviewed Athletics Coordinator of Instruction Ed Sprague for the open managerial position.