• David Price pitches during Game 5 of the ALCS Thursday night in Houston.

  • J.D. Martinez gets a hug in the dugout after hitting a home run in Game 5 of the ALCS.

  • J.D. Martinez hits a home during Game 5 of the ALCS.

  • Rafael Devers celebrates after hitting a home run during Game 5 of the ALCS.

  • Red Sox celebrate their ALCS victory.



HOUSTON — As Alex Cora finished up a TV interview in the middle of the visitors clubhouse at Minute Maid Park, his players looked on, waiting eagerly to celebrate with their manager.

J.D. Martinez and a group of his Red Sox teammates, ski goggles and champagne in tow, were ready to make a memory.

"A.C.! A.C.!" they shouted at Cora, and the manager then stepped away from the cameras and disappeared into the group and a shower of champagne.

It was only fitting. The Red Sox wouldn't have got here without him, and they certainly couldn't celebrate without him.

On his 43rd birthday, Cora had earned the greatest gift of all. Behind a dominant performance from David Price, a three-run home run by Rafael Devers, and the brilliant managing of Cora as a first-year skipper that was on display all season, the Red Sox defeated the Houston Astros, 4-1, last night to win the American League pennant, capping a run of four consecutive wins, including all three on the road, to oust the defending champions in five commanding games.

Game 1 of the World Series will be Tuesday night at Fenway Park against either the Los Angeles Dodgers or Milwaukee Brewers.

"It's special in every aspect," Cora said. "To be able to lead this team, it's amazing. It's a great group – very talented, very humble, very hungry.

"They were very — for two years very disappointed the Indians and the Astros and they didn't play well in October. And now we won, what, seven games already in October. We've still got four more to go."

From Day 1, Cora has pushed all the right buttons and connected with the players like few managers — and especially new ones. The Red Sox were dominant over the first month of the season, starting 17-2, and they rode that wave to a record-breaking 108-win season.

In the playoffs, they've only backed it up, beating the Yankees in four and then the Astros in five. Cora has made all the difference for this team that had fallen short the last two Octobers.

"I’m extremely proud of him. I’m so happy for him," said president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who swiftly made the hire of Cora last October, less than two weeks after John Farrell was fired. "He’s changed the atmosphere since he’s been on board. When we met with him and had a chance to interview him, you could just feel the leadership skills, communication skills, the good feel he has with people. Everybody you talk to, people say the same thing about him. 

"I’m thrilled for him that he could do this. He brought a good staff on board, great connectivity with the players, and everyone has a great deal of respect for him."

Dombrowski has been most impressed by how quickly Cora, who played for the Red Sox and was a bench coach for the Astros last season, integrated himself with the players starting in spring training.

"That’s not easy to do, and he did it, and I think he does it not only because he’s a smart baseball guy, he’s a good person, he’s got a good heart," Dombrowski said. "He’s so sincere with the players, he’s just very sincere, and so he’s got their respect. He’s almost a part of them, but he’s not, and it’s just natural for him. He doesn’t have to do any false bravado or put any false pretenses. It’s just natural."

Across the diamond, Cora's former boss was proud of the job he had done.

"I don't know the inner workings of his team, but it's not easy to take over a team in that market in that setting and see the things that happen to that team and still come out with all the wins that he did," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

"I think his convictions, his demeanor, his personality that rubbed off on that team is something that I noticed and something that he should be proud of."

Martinez didn't sign with the Red Sox until March, but right away could tell how special this team could be. Price said Cora's demeanor has never changed, win or lose. Jackie Bradley Jr. called him "one of the guys."

"He’s meant everything," Mookie Betts said. "He’s got so much trust and belief in us, and it’s just crazy to see how when the lineup changes so much, and we just continue to succeed. It just shows that he trusts in us just as much as we trust in him, and that’s how you win games."

That trust was on full display again last night. When almost everyone doubted Price had the ability to succeed in the postseason, it was Cora who continued to support and believe in him. It paid off.

Price delivered maybe the best biggest performance of his career, throwing six shutout innings, allowing just three hits and striking out a postseason career-high eight batters. In his 12th try, the 33-year-old finally conquered his October demon, to win his first career postseason start.

"I'm happy that David showed up today," Cora said. "And tomorrow we can turn the page and move on to the World Series with David Price."

The Red Sox struck first when Martinez hit his first homer since Game 1 of the ALDS, a solo shot in the third off Justin Verlander. Martinez escaped a strikeout when an 0-2 slider on the outside corner was called a ball. But on the next pitch, he crushed Verlander's hanging curveball, and it stayed fair down the left-field line to give the Sox a 1-0 lead.

Devers came up with the biggest swing of his young career in the sixth. After Mitch Moreland led off with a double, and Ian Kinsler followed with a single, the 22-year-old Devers jumped on a first pitch from Verlander, a 98-mph fastball, and lifted it opposite field to left, where it snuck out for a three-run homer.

That was all they needed. Matt Barnes gave up a solo homer to Marwin Gonzalez, but Nathan Eovaldi came on and shut the door. And a night after Craig Kimbrel nearly blew Game 4, Cora didn't hesitate to put in his closer for the ninth.

Kimbrel was on point this time. The final out was made by Andrew Benintendi, who caught Tony Kemp's deep fly to left, and the Red Sox stormed the field to celebrate.

"He’s been great," Kimbrel said of Cora. "Not just to me, but this entire team. … You can’t say enough about what he’s meant for us and helped us get to the next level. I mean, here we are, we’re going to the World Series."