Remember 48 hours ago, all the doubters who didn’t give the Astros a hint of a chance? They and their 9-23 road record against the Twins MLB-best 24-7 mark, why even play the games?
WRONG. Houston has shocked the sporting world, winning both games at Target Field in nearly identical fashion, including a 3-1 triumph Wednesday afternoon. They did it thanks to outstanding pitching from this very young staff, as well as continued contributions from Kyle Tucker, who has simply been in fuego for six weeks.
Believe it or not, the Astros have ended the Twins’ season in the minimum two games needed to win a best-of-three series. Next up...a best-of-five ALDS matchup against either the White Sox or A’s, at Dodger Stadium of all places. Welcome to the year 2020, in case you are unfamiliar with it or something.
Think back to all the clutch homers Carlos Correa has delivered in the postseason over the years. For instance, Game 5 of the 2017 World Series and 50 weeks ago when he took a ball oppo taco to defeat the Yankees in Game 2 of the ALCS. Well, he did it again Wednesday.
With two outs and nobody on base in the top of the seventh, Correa deposited a slider from Cody Stashak well over the right-center field wall for a go-ahead solo blast, making it 2-1.
Framber Valdez was the story in Game 1 with his dominant relief outing in his introduction to postseason baseball. Following the same script, rookie Cristian Javier worked three hitless frames in his own playoff debut in Game 2 to earn the victory. Javier even helped out defensively, picking off the fleet Byron Buxton (who was representing the tying run) to finish the eighth.
Yesterday, the Astros took the lead in the ninth inning and then added insurance. Today, it was all about tacking on with advantage already in hand. Taylor Rogers walked Brantley to begin the frame and Bregman followed with a single, before Tucker chopped a ball into right field for his second RBI single of the day. Houston did miss an opportunity for more after leaving runners on second and third after they were there with nobody out, but it mattered little with Ryan Pressly on the mound.
Pressly, the reliable closer, made quick work of the Twins in the bottom of the ninth. He struck out Miguel Sano with ease. Bregman snared Kirilloff’s liner to third and Pressly froze Polanco with a 97 mile-an-hour fastball to finish off Houston’s seventh postseason series win in the last 35 months.
The first inning had a very similar feel to Game 1, as the Astros went down quietly in the top half before Minnesota loaded the bases with two outs in their turn at the plate. Up stepped Alex Kirilloff, one of the top prospects in all of baseball, who became the third position player in history to make his major league debut in a playoff game. Urquidy was able to get Kirilloff to fly to center, ending the threat.
When Michael Brantley came to the plate in the fourth, Twins starter Jose Berrios was operating on flat-out cruise control. He had retired the first 11 Houston hitters on just 39 pitches, but Brantley and Bregman were each able to work him for a walk. Kyle Tucker then did a phenomenal job of beating the shift, simply poking a ball through the 5-6 hole for a single, plating Brantley to make it 1-0 in favor of the Astros.
Starting with the final out of the first, Urquidy set down nine batters in a row before Kirilloff ripped a clean two-out single to right in the fourth. Urquidy got out of that inning before allowing a knock to ex-Astro Marwin Gonzalez to lead off the fifth. After he punched out Ryan Jeffers, Dusty Baker went to the bullpen in favor of Brooks Raley. The southpaw issued a walk then struck out Max Kepler, and Nelson Cruz came up in one of the day’s most pivotal moments. Cruz smoked a line drive off the wall in left to easily tie the game, but Tucker was able to quickly get to the ball, fire to Correa, who executed a perfect relay throw to the plate and cut down Luis Arraez to keep the contest even at 1.
Who the Astros face next will depend on what takes place on the bright side of the Bay in the next 24 hours. The A’s were pounding the White Sox 5-0 at publication time on Wednesday, making a winner-take-all Game 3 look likely. A Chicago series victory would set up a rematch of the 2005 World Series, and if Oakland pulls it out, a heated AL West rivalry will begin a new chapter.
Box score and videos HERE.