The Boston Red Sox won a team-record 108 games in the regular season, but there were still doubts: Some said they fattened up on weak teams, others questioned their starting pitching, and many had grave doubts about the team’s shaky bullpen.
But after rolling through the American League playoffs, ousting first the Yankees and then the Houston Astros — both 100-win teams, as well — the Red Sox on Thursday backed up their strong regular season by earning a place in the World Series.
Behind a storybook performance by their starting pitcher, David Price, who won a postseason start for the first time, the Red Sox beat the Houston Astros, 4-1, in Game 5 of the best-of-seven American League Championship Series and capture their 14th A.L. pennant.
The Red Sox set off alarm bells for many observers after losing Game 1 of the series at home, but they won the next four, three of them at Minute Maid Park in Houston. They will face the winner of the National League Championship Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Milwaukee Brewers in the Fall Classic beginning Tuesday at Fenway Park in Boston.
Whichever team emerges from the N.L. will have its hands full against Boston, a hard-charging group that has adopted the confident persona of its first-year manager, Alex Cora, whose emphasis on fun and belief in the talent of his players has translated into a bundle of wins.
“We play in a city that — sometimes winning is a relief,” Cora said before Thursday’s game. “And we’re not doing that. We really are enjoying the ride, the journey.”
The Red Sox have won seven of their nine playoff games so far, going undefeated in road games this postseason — including two at Yankee Stadium and three at Minute Maid Park, where they knocked the defending World Series champions out of the postseason to the dismay of most of the 43,201 fans in attendance on Thursday.
“They took it to us,” Houston Manager A.J. Hinch said, adding: “They never stop coming at you. They are a relentless group.”
Price had a lot to do with it. In one of the biggest performances of his career, the 33-year-old left-hander went six innings, allowed three hits and no walks, and struck out nine to win his first postseason start in 12 attempts.
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, became sick on Sunday, Cora asked Price to fill in on three days of rest, instead of the usual four, in Game 5.
Then on Wednesday, Cora asked Price to warm up in the bullpen during Game 4 to potentially pitch late in that game. Price did not enter the game, but the extra warm-up and the workload the night before left some uncertainty about what Price might have left in his tank on Thursday.
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-miles-per-hour cut fastball that ended the frame.
Houston 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, including another strikeout, putting himself in position to earn the win.
Price had made a small dent in his postseason reputation already in this series. He entered Game 2 with an 0-9 record in 10 postseason starts, and his teams had lost all 10 of those games. He did not earn the win in Boston’s 7-5 victory in that game because he did not pitch the required five innings, but he called the achievement “baby steps.”
He followed that with giant leaps on Thursday.
Price was given a lead with J.D. Martinez’s solo home run in the third, and he did not give it up. The Red Sox extended their lead in the top of the sixth, as Mitch Moreland first doubled off the wall in left field against Houston starter Justin Verlander, and Ian Kinsler singled to move Moreland to third. Up came third baseman Rafael Devers, who blasted a fastball over the left-field fence to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead.
Verlander had won Game 1 at Fenway Park, and the Astros hoped he could return to stave off elimination on Thursday. As the defending champions from a seven-game World Series last fall, the Astros were not lacking confidence. But they were overmatched by a team that now has 115 wins combined in the regular season and playoffs.
“I think we’re playing a competitive team that’s really good,” Hinch said before the game, “and we’re kind of exchanging haymakers.”
Jackie Bradley Jr., the Red Sox’s outfielder and No. 9 hitter, was an unlikely source of some of those blows, hitting crucial home runs in Games 3 and 4 en route to earning the A.L.C.S. Most Valuable Player Award.
The final knockout punch came when Craig Kimbrel, Boston’s closer, induced a deep fly ball from Tony Kemp in the bottom of the ninth. Andrew Benintendi, whose diving catch clinched Game 4, ranged all the way to the warning track, only a foot from the left-field wall, to catch the ball and seal the win, sending the Red Sox’s dugout pouring onto the field to celebrate Boston’s latest trip to the World Series.