Entering Thursday night’s ALCS Game 5, if you had told Red Sox fans both David Price and Craig Kimbrel would be used, they would have asked, “By how many runs did the Red Sox lose?” Price had a career 5.42 postseason ERA and Kimbrel had allowed runs in all four appearances this postseason.
Price, contrary to the narrative, pitched excellently. He spun six shutout innings, limiting the Astros to three hits while walking none and striking out nine on 93 pitches. The only other postseason appearance he had in which he tossed at least four scoreless innings in the playoffs was in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Astros last year when he was used in relief. It was by far his most successful playoff start.
The difference was his change-up. According to Brooks Baseball, Price used his change-up 22 percent of the time. He threw 19 total change-ups out of his 122 pitches (15.6%) in his previous two playoff starts, per MLB.com’s Andrew Simon. In Game 5, he threw 38 change-ups (41%).
Of Price’s nine strikeouts, five were finished with the change-up, sending Astros hitters chasing. Springer in the first, Correa and Gonzalez in the fourth, Kemp in the fifth, and Altuve in the sixth. Astros hitters made contact with only 12 of those 38 change-ups and they had an average exit velocity of 72 MPH — quite weak. Eight were fouled off and four were put in play for outs.
Price clearly found something that worked, but his change-up can’t become a crutch. Whichever team, between the Dodgers and Brewers, meets up with the Red Sox will do their due diligence, poring over Price’s start against the Astros pitch-by-pitch. Price did it once successfully. Now he has to do it again, this time in the World Series.