HOUSTON — Close to 1 a.m. local time on Wednesday night, David Price held his year-old son in one arm, wiped the sweat off his forehead with the other and said he would be ready for another postseason start, the 12th of his career.
It was going to be something special, he said.
The previous 11 had been forgettable, each one a different tale of how Price couldn’t harness the adrenaline and crumbled under pressure. He hadn’t always pitched poorly, but his team lost 10 of the 11 times.
Last night, Price dazzled in six scoreless innings, undoubtedly the finest and most important six innings of his major league career. He didn’t walk anybody, struck out nine and generated 15 whiffs.
When his masterpiece was finished, he turned a lead over to the bullpen and watched the Red Sox run away with a 4-1 win, ending the reigning champs’ season on their way to the Sox’ first World Series appearance since 2013.
They did it not despite of Price, but because of him.
“I know my abilities,” Price said afterward. “I can look on the back of my baseball card and those numbers don’t lie. They don’t lie. I know what I can do out there on the mound.”
Around the Red Sox clubhouse, current and former Red Sox greats nodded their heads up and down. They had been saying all along that this was coming, but to most of us it felt like it had become baseball’s version of the boy who cried wolf.
And after Price’s temperamental displays created an embarrassing circus out of the Red Sox’ 2017 season, there was little reason to think he was maturing.
That’s what we thought from the outside.
Inside, it was different.
“Maybe,” said Mookie Betts. “I think maybe off the field. It’s tough to say. He’s always pretty chill. On the field, he definitely had a different focus, I think. Obviously he’s human. He had some struggles. But he bounced back. That’s what a good pitcher does. I think by blocking everybody out except the 25 guys in that locker room.
"We all believe in him. He believes in himself. We told him, ‘Let’s go.’ He proved everybody wrong. I’m happy he did. He definitely proved all the doubters wrong.”
After Alex Cora named Price the Game 2 starter for this series, the only sensible reaction was to scream.
But something clicked for Price in the bullpen during Game 4, when he spent about an hour warming up during the late innings, unsure if he would be needed to bail out the erratic flamethrower, Craig Kimbrel, on just two days rest.
Afterward, Cora met Price in the handshake line, pointed to him and let him know he was starting Game 5.
Price felt a gem coming.
“My last thought last night before I went to bed was probably a little bit different than usual,” Price said. “The night before I pitch, I’m just envisioning myself making pitches. And last night I envisioned myself doing this right here (the postgame interview), and going through my head what I was going to say.
“I’m happy it happened.”
The game itself felt like a blur. The Astros couldn’t touch him.
They were MLB’s best offense all year against left-handed pitching. They had slapped Price silly in Game 2, when he stubbornly pitched with only fastballs for the majority of the game. Just about every pitch registered between 88-93 mph in that outing. Of his first 54 pitches, only two were off-speed. It looked like batting practice. They scored four on him, and it could’ve been worse.
But in Game 5, Price had a feel for the change. The Astros clearly didn’t.
Throwing his fastball with an average velocity of 94 mph, his hardest since June 17, and touching as high as 96 mph, Price set up the Astros with the heater and put them away on his dazzling change.
Of his 93 pitches, 39 were change ups, the highest percentage of change ups in his entire big league career.
“They weren’t hitting it,” Price said.
Twelve times the Astros swung and missed at his change up.
“A team that typically likes changeups, and something he did not throw last time out,” said pitching coach Dana LeVangie. “It wasn’t a part of his mix. And what a great time to surprise.”
The Sox led 1-0 until the sixth, when Rafael Devers hit a three-run homer to finally give Price some breathing room. He didn’t need it.
“That was one of the ballsy-est efforts I’ve ever seen,” Rick Porcello said. “It was awesome. I can’t say enough about his performance. He shutdown one of the best lineups in the league and gave us a chance.”
Price outdueled Justin Verlander, Price’s postseason opposite who hadn’t given up more than three runs in any of his 12 postseason starts since 2012.
Verlander gave up four in this one.
And after a nine-year wait spanning 12 October games, Price finally earned earned his first win as a postseason starter.
“It feels good,” he said, smiling. “I don’t think I’m going to have to answer that question next year in spring training, or on Sept. 1, when that day comes. I don’t have to answer that question now, and that feels good.”
Not everybody felt the question was fair.
“He’s been battling a narrative,” said pitching analyst Brian Bannister. “But this is one of the best athletes baseball has seen in a long time. He’s had a tremendous career and he’s stepped up on a big stage tonight.”
Inside the locker room, the Red Sox seem to adore Price.
“I couldn’t be happier for an individual,” former Red Sox catcher and current instructor Jason Varitek said. “Nobody is happier. He’s been an amazing teammate to every one of these guys, such a supporter. Finally, to have something — maybe not the best circumstances, warming up last night and pitching on short rest — but to have that type of outing, amazing. I’m so happy for him. Just happy he’s on this team.”
Among the most happy for Price was Dustin Pedroia, who has been forced to watch from the dugout with a balky knee.
"You see how much he cares and how much he wants to pitch that great game to get where we need to be, and today he did that," Pedroia said.
Pedroia will go to his third World Series, and don't think for a second the franchise icon can't enjoy it just because he's not playing.
"It’s not bitter at all," he said. "I’ve been with the Red Sox my entire career — any opportunity we have to win the World Series. I can watch the guys do it and I’ll do anything I can to help."
Pedroia already did help.
A week earlier, he was watching video of Price when he discovered something that could be of use and shared it with Cora, who shared it with the coaching staff, who shared it with the pitcher.
“I’ve faced David a lot in my career, so I just know from facing him what pitches are hard to hit, which ones you don’t see, certain angles, things like that,” Pedroia said. “When you watch him pitch, you see some of their swings, and they’re not used to swinging at balls like that in that location. You just look for things you can identify if he’s doing something wrong or something is off.
“We play so many guys, they throw so many innings, you don’t realize sometimes if you’re off. It’s the guys that aren’t playing, it’s their job to figure it out.”
Finally, somebody figured it out. Price threw a postseason gem. His team won the game.
The narrative is dead.
The World Series is next.