Frankly, as the Astros plodded through a fairly lackluster season and somehow stumbled into another AL West title, I didn’t think the Astros would get this far. What with the injuries, the regression in the pitching staff, some sloppy play at times, I wasn’t sure the Astros would make it to the playoffs, much less their seventh straight ALCS appearance.
But as the season came to a close, the team seemed to gel. Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez returned to the lineup. Cristian Javier began to rediscover his form. So did Jose Urquidy, returning from injury as well. And, of course, Jose Abreu.
Jose Abreu looked like the biggest free-agent bust ever until September. He started to hit in the last month, but nobody trusted it. But In Game 3, Abreu hit two homers with five RBI, and tonight, his two-run jack took the Astros into their coming showdown with cross-state rivals, the Rangers.
The pre-game narrative was “he who scores first, wins.”
It wasn’t the Astros.
So much for narratives.
Twins starter Joe Ryan took out the top of the Astros order 1-2-3 in the first. Astros starter Jose Urquidy did not look sharp. But he was a little lucky.
He allowed a leadoff double to Eduoard Julien. But the next batter hit a sharp lineout to shortstop Jeremy Pena, who then made a cat-like leap at the runner at second to double him up. And a good thing, because Royce Lewis hit a monster to the left field seats to draw first blood for the Twins.
But the Twins didn’t hold their lead for long. Uncle Mike Brantley, “Professional Hitter” who never strikes out, answered with his own solo shot to the right field seats.
Urquidy looked like a different pitcher from the second inning on, striking out the side swinging in the bottom of the inning.
And after another scoreless inning for the Astros, Urquidy continued his Greg Maddux imitation, striking out his next two batters swinging before a groundout to end the third inning.
In the fourth inning, the Twins sent lefty Caleb Thielbar to face lefties Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker. When will these dumbass managers learn? That’s what Dusty wants them to do. Alvarez had already homered off Thielbar earlier in the series, so Theilbar must have felt lucky that Yordan only singled, maintaining his .500 BA in this ALDS. Thielbar managed to whiff Tucker, but now he had to face the red-hot righty and newest Astros hero, Jose Abreu. Abreu oppoed one for his third homer in seven at-bats to give the Astros a 3-1 lead.
Meanwhile, Urquidy continued his dominance in the bottom of the fourth with another 1-2-3 inning.
And then again in the fifth.
And then, in the sixth, the Twins got their first hit since the first inning, unfortunately, a solo homer by Julien. With two outs and nobody on, Urquidy was removed for Hector Neris.
It was going to be a dead-eye pitcher’s duel from here on out.
Urquidy’s playoff legend grows. Injured most of the season and never fully integrated into the Astros’ rotation, he went 5.2 innings, allowing only three hits, two solo homers, one walk, with six strikeouts. Nineteen of his 82 pitches were swinging strikes. He left the game ahead 3-2.
If Urquidy hadn’t filled in against Arizona in the season’s last series without notice and brilliantly won that truly critical game, he probably wouldn’t have gotten the start tonight. The Stros might not have even made the playoffs.
Neris walked his first batter in the sixth but struck out Max Kepler to hold the Astros lead. And in the seventh, he atoned for his meltdown in Game 2 with yet another Astros 1-2-3 inning, the last two batters striking out swinging.
After J. Abreu’s shot, the Astros bats went silent. But the Astros shutdown pitching continued. After Neris’ seventh-inning mastery, Bryan Abreu continued his scoreless streak that began on July 26th, with a, you guessed it, 1-2-3 inning with two K’s and a weak popout by Byron Buxton, his first at-bat in two months.
Of course, in the eighth and ninth innings, the Astros couldn’t touch superhuman bullpen ace Jhoan Duran. (except a single by J. Abreu)
So the game came down to Ryan Pressly, who hasn’t exactly been the model shutdown closer this year.
Guess what. 1-2-3.
Pressly struck out the side. Each batter on a 3-2 count. The first two swinging at breaking balls, the third watching a fastball that barely grazed the outside corner.
Carlos Correa was on deck. Sorry Carlos.
Astros win 3-2. Take the series 3-1.
Of course, Yordan Alvarez had one of, if not the greatest League division series ever. And don’t forget the critical, decisive defensive plays by Jeremy Pena. We could go on and on. Add your favorite moments of the series in the comments.
Wow. Two super hot teams are going to slug it out in the I-45 series. It starts on Sunday.