Did that game look like Astros 2020 or some kind of throwback team?
A last-at-bat come from behind victory in a play-off game. Where have we seen that before? Brilliant pitching with a long reliever getting the win. Hmmm.
Game saving defensive heroics by one Alexander Bregman.
Party like it’s 2017.
The Astros pitching staff was excellent in the playoff opener, doing more than enough to grab a 1-0 series lead on the Minnesota Twins. However, what plagued them most throughout the regular season? That’s right, the offense. They gave false hope time and time again throughout the day and it appeared it would happen once more in the ninth inning, setting up the Twins with a perfect opportunity to walk off with a victory.
However, the tide turned. Houston took advantage of a costly miscue and used a two-out rally to their advantage, much like they have done in years past at this time of year.
When the dust settled, the Astros claimed Game 1 of the best-of-three Wild Card Series with a 4-1 win on Tuesday afternoon at Target Field. It was just the 10th road victory of the season for the Astros, but it could not have come at a better time. They need one win in the next two games in Minneapolis to advance to the division series.
Trailing 1-0, Houston was finally able to break through in the seventh inning, receiving three straight two-out singles by Reddick, Martin Maldonado and George Springer to tie the game. However, the rally also came with frustration, as Maldonado was easily thrown out trying to go first to third on Springer’s game-tying hit.
Yuli Gurriel and Correa led off the ninth with singles against Sergio Romo, but they remained on first and second with two outs with Springer at the plate. The star leadoff hitter chopped a ball to short where Jorge Polanco threw wide to second, keeping the inning alive with the bases loaded.
Jose Altuve has had a miserable season but may have just turned all the frustrations to exhilaration when he took a 3-2 pitch from Romo high and out of the zone, bringing in Gurriel with the go-ahead run. Rocco Baldelli then pulled Romo in favor of southpaw Caleb Thielbar, but Michael Brantley was up to the challenge. The Astros most productive hitter this year ripped a two-run single, making it 4-1 and essentially icing the game.
Now, a three-run lead typically wouldn’t be enough for Houston’s bullpen this year, but it was today.
What an outing by Framber Valdez in his postseason debut after entering for Greinke in the fifth, promptly getting into and out of a mess. He walked the first two batters but retired Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Nelson Cruz in order to prevent things from getting out of hand. Valdez then went three up, three down in the sixth, seventh and eighth, marking 12 batters retired in a row after his initial hiccup. He struck out five batters, frequently going to his curve to make Buxton and Cruz look silly.
After an out to begin the ninth (running Valdez’s streak to 13), Miguel Sano and Polanco both singled off Valdez, no doubt bringing an uneasy feeling to Astros fans all across the globe. But pinch-hitter Williams Astudillo bounced the first pitch to third where Bregman started an easy 5-3 double play to end it.
Valdez worked the final five innings with just the two singles and two walks allowed to earn the win. Not a bad playoff debut. Gutsy call by Dusty Baker to put him in when he did, and to leave him in when he did.
And what a turnaround 2020 turned out to be for a guy who used to be known as the “frambering man.”
Michael Brantley doubled to left with two outs in the first inning off Kenta Maeda but was left at second base. Zack Greinke’s postseason career has been turbulent to say the least, as he entered Tuesday with a 4.21 ERA in 16 playoff starts. Minnesota loaded the bases with just one out, but Greinke did an excellent job to wiggle out of trouble - inducing Eddie Rosario to line out and retiring Miguel Sano on a slow grounder up the third base line. Bregman made a slick play to charge the ball and fire across to get Sano on an extremely close play, keeping the game scoreless.
The Astros forced Maeda to throw 25 pitches in the second inning, but a walk by Carlos Correa is all they could muster. In the home third, Greinke issued a free pass to Max Kepler on a full count. This proved costly because veteran postseason performer Nelson Cruz ripped an opposite-field double, and Kepler was able to score from first with a great slide at the plate.
Alex Bregman worked a one-out walk in the fourth, then Kyle Tucker singled before Correa again walked to load the bags with two down. Josh Reddick stepped in and Maeda seemingly took an hour in between each pitch, but was able to get him to whiff at a slider, ending another 25-pitch frame and the Astros once again came up empty.
Greinke’s afternoon ended after a perfect fourth inning, but he had to labor by tossing 16 pitches. His final line: 4 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 K on 79 pitches. Not great yet should have exited with a lead.
Let’s not forget Bregman. Zack Greinke looked like he just plain didn’t have it in the first inning. He gave up a hit and two walks and this finesse-first pitcher was struggling to find the strike zone. With the bases loaded Miguel Sano hit what looked like a sure infield hit to Alex Bregman, playing way back for the big slugger. This is what Alex did.
This game looked like it could have gotten out of hand early but this play by Bregman stopped the Twins momentum in its tracks. Greinke was solid in his next three innings setting up Valdez beautifully.
The bottom line is the Astros lead the best-of-three set 1-0 and have a chance to end the Twins’ season tomorrow. It is another early first pitch as this one will be at 12:08 p.m. CT. Houston is undecided on their probable as of the end of Game 1 but it is likely to either be Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.73) while Minnesota is expected to counter with Jose Berrios (5-4, 4.00).
One thing is now guaranteed, folks. The Astros will officially be playing October baseball. Whether it is a Game 3 on Thursday or the division series next week is still to be determined.