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Jose Altuve Capitalizes In The Ninth, Astros Take 3-2 ALCS Lead

Championship Series - Houston Astros v Texas Rangers - Game Five Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images


Simply wow.

Before we dive into the recap, let me state the following:

Jose Altuve is the greatest Astro ever. I don’t think it is up for debate, especially when accounting for all of his postseason heroics. Yes, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, a pair of Hall of Famers, defined this franchise for a long time. But Altuve is the face of this golden era of Astros baseball. A key component of one of the most successful stretches in Major League history on a team performance level. I could list his accolades and best moments, but it would leave little room for this recap. Simply put, Altuve is the best to ever don the blue-and-orange (and black-and-brick red).

Now, back to the recap.

Game 5, in a nutshell, started mildly exciting, thanks to Alex Bregman’s first inning solo shot off of Jordan Montgomery. Considering how bamboozled Montgomery made this lineup look in Game 1 at Minute Maid Park, an early run against him felt like a victory in and of itself.

Alas, the lineup couldn’t generate much of anything against Montgomery. While José Abreu would add a second run to Houston’s ledger in the sixth inning, it was due more to Corey Seager’s misplay at shortstop rather than a terrific piece of hitting by Abreu. Of course, in a tight postseason game, you take any run you can muster, no matter how it occurs. But, again, Montgomery was quite effective across 5 13 innings, sending down ten Astros in a row at one point.

The pressure was also on Justin Verlander to keep one of the best lineups in baseball from breaking out in a pivotal Game 5. The veteran right-hander did his job to start the afternoon, limiting the Rangers to a lone run — Nathaniel Lowe’s solo home run in the fifth inning — to at least maintain pace with Montgomery. But Verlander didn’t have his best stuff, with only three strikeouts and seven whiffs on the day. Sure, he was efficient, but a third time through the order wasn’t an appealing option. Dusty Baker faced a bit of a dilemma by the bottom of the sixth: Allow Verlander to continue, having thrown only 68 pitches, or turn it over to a relatively fresh bullpen? Ultimately, Baker chose not to have someone warming in the bullpen and Verlander got his chance to at least bridge the gap to the later innings. Spoiler alert: It didn’t go well with Verlander surrendering hard and loud contact on Corey Seager’s double (109.7 MPH) and Adolis García’s three-run home run (108 MPH). Ultimately, Verlander was in line to take the loss and the Astros were staring down a 3-2 deficit heading back home for Game 6.

Then the last three innings happened.

The seventh truthfully was uneventful, with the Astros wasting a leadoff walk by Martín Maldonado. Héctor Neris kept the Rangers off the board in the bottom half of the frame. Other than counting down how many more outs the Astros had to mount a comeback, there wasn’t much to it in this frame. Personally, I was sitting at home wondering which version of Framber Valdez we would see on Sunday.

The tone of the game, however, changed in the eighth, with Evan Carter drawing a leadoff walk against Bryan Abreu, appearing for already the fourth time in this series. Tension building, right? García is up to the plate and on the first pitch of the at-bat, Abreu plunks him on the left arm with a 99 MPH four-seam fastball. Tempers immediately flared as García took exception to the hit-by-pitch, turning to Maldonado to noticeably express his displeasure.

The benches cleared and we all watched as Abreu, Baker, and García were ejected. Both Abreu and Baker voiced their stance after the game that the hit-by-pitch wasn’t intentional.

But with two runners on base and no outs, the Astros were in dangerous territory. Without one of their top two relievers, Joe Espada chose Ryan Pressly to come out to complete the eighth, hoping to at least keep the deficit to two runs. Well, Pressly did what he does best, which is to keep the opposing team off the scoreboard and prevent Texas’ lead from growing. Striking out Josh Jung and Lowe, in particular, was some truly impressive stuff from the veteran reliever.

Enter the top of the ninth. Yainer Díaz pinch hits for Jeremy Peña and collects his first postseason hit against José Leclerc. Jon Singleton then pinch hits for Maldonado, earning a walk. This all sets the stage for arguably one of the biggest home runs in Astros’ history.

I mean, what else can you say? Entering the ninth inning, the Rangers had a 92% chance of winning, according to FanGraphs. That percentage dropped all the way to 21.3%.

Leclerc, however, would keep the sudden deficit to only one run, leaving the door open for the Rangers to mount a comeback of their own. With Mitch Garver, Jonah Heim, and Marcus Semien due up, a win wasn’t a certainty for the Astros. It also doesn’t help when Seager and Evan Carter are right behind those guys. Lo and behold, Garver and Heim pick up back-to-back singles to apply the pressure on Pressly. Not a great spot, especially with three of the Rangers’ best hitters coming up. But Pressly, in arguably one of the most impressive performances of his career, got Semien to line out to Grae Kessinger at shortstop, followed by Seager flying out to Mauricio Dubòn and Carter striking out to end it.

And exhale.

By winning all three games at Arlington, the Astros now find themselves with a 3-2 series advantage. Normally a positive development, right? Might not be for a team that is 7-20 in their last 27 home games, but, hopefully, Friday’s Game 5 win propels this club to its third consecutive World Series appearance and their fifth in the last seven seasons. Game 6 likely features Valdez on the mound, countered by Nathan Eovaldi. Let’s hope there isn’t a repeat performance of Game 2, shall we?