MLB playoffs: David Price uses his changeup to crush the narrative and send Red Sox to 2018 World Series

HOUSTON -- The Red Sox signed him for this moment. They waited through three years of ups and downs and elbow woes and never-ending narratives for this moment. He waited for this moment for more than a decade. David Price, on short rest, had the chance to send his team to the World Series. 

The Boston Red Sox are the 2018 American League champions.

Thursday night, Price and the Red Sox defeated the defending champion Houston Astros in Minute Maid Park in Game 5 of the ALCS to clinch a spot in the World Series. They outscored the Astros, the team with the best run differential in baseball during the regular season, 24-14 in the final four games of the series, all Boston wins.

"It's one of the most special days I've ever had on the baseball field," Price said following Game 5. "So very special." 

For years Price could not escape the postseason choker narrative. Across 12 postseason series the man with the richest pitching contract in baseball history posted a 5.42 ERA in 79 2/3 innings with 15 home runs allowed. His teams were 1-10 in his 11 postseason starts, and, in the one win, Price allowed four runs in 4 2/3 innings. The numbers are objectively bad.

The cards could not have been more stacked against him going into Game 5. Price was pushed into action on short rest because Chris Sale is still weak following a stomach ailment that was severe enough to require a night in the hospital last weekend. Price also warmed up with intent behind Craig Kimbrel in the eighth and ninth innings of Game 4 on Wednesday night.

"I think it will just maybe make me a little more sharp for tomorrow," Price joked following Game 4 when asked about warming up in the bullpen. "I might have found a new thing for me to do the day before I pitch."

"We knew he was a full-go. I talked to him after we found out about Chris. So he was ready," Red Sox manager Alex Cora added. "Yesterday I know he threw in the bullpen, but he really didn't get hot, I think, probably at the end. So he didn't make too many pitches."

Six innings, three hits, no walks, nine strikeouts and no runs allowed. It is the first scoreless start of Price's postseason career. It is his first postseason win as a starting pitcher. It is the first time he can be celebrated as the hero rather than bear the blame for his -- and his team's -- postseason failures.

"I definitely felt good on the mound. I continued to tell myself, 'Just stay in the moment. Don't worry about the next hitter. Don't think about the next pitch. Just stay right here,'" Price said. "And I was able to do that tonight. And it paid off. And that was one of the more special nights I've ever had on the baseball field."

Price came out in Game 5 with a dominant changeup. At this point of his career he is primarily a fastball pitcher who uses three different fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter) to all quadrants of the strike zone. When he needs to change speeds, he drops a changeup down below the zone. That changeup was a knockout pitch in Game 5.

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David Price lulled the Astros to sleep with his changeup throughout ALCS Game 5. Baseball Savant

"It was good. It was good in the bullpen, warming up, it got better as the game went on," Price said when asked about his changeup. "Made some adjustments with it, I think, after the fourth inning and it was huge."

It wasn't until he started to tire in the fifth and sixth innings -- understandable, given that he was on short rest and warmed up in Game 4 -- that Price started to lose the handle a bit and leave some changeups up in the zone. Five of his nine strikeouts came on swinging strikes against changeups down below the zone. Another was on an elevated heater set up by a changeup.

"His velocity was really high. That's as hard as we've seen him throw against us that I can remember," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "And the changeup plays off of that. When you're throwing 94, 95, his changeup is plus. His changeup was hard. Our guys were coming back saying -- everything had a little bit of uptick to it."

"As always with David, it's command. Regardless if it's three days' rest, four or ten. It's all about command," Cora said before Game 5. "Also, if he can sustain that fastball in different spots of the strike zone. And it's not related to velocity. It's be precise."

Among his 93 pitches, Price threw a whopping 39 changeups, or 42 percent. That is the highest changeup rate in any game in his career. Those 39 changeups generated a season-high 12 swings and misses. Only twice in his career did Price miss more bats with his changeup in a single game than he did ALCS Game 5.

  1. June 14, 2016 vs. Orioles: 14 swings and misses on changeups
  2. Sept. 12, 2016 vs. Orioles: 13
  3. 2018 ALCS Game 5 vs. Astros: 12
  4. April 11, 2014 vs. Reds: 12
  5. Three games with 11 (most recently Aug. 5, 2018, vs. Yankees)

Game 5 was all set up for Price to be the goat again. He was on short rest, the bullpen was taxed behind him, and he was matched up with Justin Verlander. Even with a 3-1 series lead, it felt like the Red Sox went into Game 5 having to find a way to survive. On paper, everything was stacked against him.

"When you see the emotion of the last pitch that he threw to [Jose] Altuve and he punches him out, you know, it mattered so much to him and he stepped up in a huge fashion," Hinch added. "Having pitched -- he was up for 25 minutes yesterday throwing bullpens, waiting to come in that game -- and then he responds with some of the most crisp stuff that he's had, that we've seen. And that's a championship-caliber performance."

Rather than cave to the narrative and send the Red Sox home to Fenway Park for Game 6, Price put together not just the best postseason start of his career, but the biggest performance of his career to date. Six shutout innings on short rest against a lineup that crushes lefties? A legacy-defining start, this was. Redemption of the highest order.

"They just attacked us. They came at us," George Springer said following Game 5. "Price was unhittable tonight. You saw what happened. He was good. They were good. That's why they're moving on."

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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