In a critical battle of bullpens that was far from pretty, the Houston Astros‘ gambit was the one that paid off, and a 6-4 win in Game 6 over the New York Yankees has taken them to their second World Series in three years.
An elimination game with no starters that lasted over four hours saw 14 total pitchers — seven for each team with none of them for more than 2 2/3 innings. The decision was justified, at least theoretically, on both sides, as Gerrit Cole and Luis Severino, the most logical choices, were on short rest and the daunting possibility of a Game 7 boded caution.
The strategy worked well for Astros manager A.J. Hinch. Not so much for his counterpart Aaron Boone. In the end, both teams’ star closers were the ones that faltered when it mattered. Now, the Astros get to celebrate an American League Championship with their fans at Minute Maid Park.
The Washington Nationals await.
One swing of the bat
The Astros carried a lead from the first to the ninth inning before New York first baseman DJ LeMahieu hit a two-run homer off closer Roberto Osuna to tie the game 4-4. With Aroldis Chapman warming up in the bullpen, extra innings seemed inevitable.
Enter Jose Altuve.
After Chapman walked George Springer with two out in the bottom of the ninth, the former league MVP hit a cold-blooded rocket into the stands to bail out Osuna and put an end to the Yankees’ efforts. Game over. Two-run shot. The Astros are going back to the World Series.
Shortly after his heroics, Altuve was named ALCS MVP. The second baseman had at least one hit in all but one Championship Series games, and entered play in Game 6 with a 1.088 OPS in the series.
In an off-season that had free-agent names like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, it would be easy to lose sight of LeMahieu.
The 31-year-old had 26 home runs and a .327 batting average in his first season with the Yankees after the team signed him to a two-year contract.
His ninth-inning, game-tying two-run shot, that brought Minute Maid Park to utter silence (for 15 minutes, at least), was further proof the deal was worth every cent.
LeMahieu sported a 1.029 OPS with two home runs in the ALCS, the second of them perhaps one of the most important of his career.
The Yankees couldn’t pull it off, but with another year in his contract, LeMahieu will get at least another chance at post-season glory in New York.
Brad Peacock made Hinch look pretty smart, as the Astros reliever opened Game 6 with a 1-2-3, seven-pitch first inning. All of them strikes.
Chad Green — who started 15 games for the Yankees as an opener in the regular season — didn’t have the same success. He surrendered a single and a walk before watching Yuli Gurriel pull a one-out, three-run homer to left field to give the Astros an instant 3-0 lead in the first.
While Green was quickly pulled at the end of the first, Peacock was back on the mound in the top of the second. But a two-out RBI single from Gary Sanchez and a yielded walk to Gio Urshela ended his night and prompted the bullpen whirlwind.
The game stabilized in the middle innings, as a couple of long relievers got important outs for both teams. J.A. Happ and Luis Cessa pitched two scoreless frames each for the Yankees, and Jose Urquidy went 2 2/3 innings for the Astros, allowing just one run — a solo shot from Urhsela in the fourth.
Gurriel bombs come in threes
Gurriel entered Game 6 at 1-for-20 in the ALCS. By the end of the first inning, he had not only improved those numbers and given the Astros the lead, but made it into the record books in the process.
The Astros first baseman made it 3-0 Houston right off the gate, becoming the first-ever player to hit three-run shots in three consecutive post-seasons.
More importantly, he had the Yankees playing catch-up on the scoreboard until the ninth inning.
Michael Brantley, defence wizard
If there’s one at-bat Aaron Hicks would like to have back, it’s probably the seventh-inning flyout to Michael Brantley, who made an absolute gem of a defensive play.
With a fragile 4-2 lead and Aaron Judge standing at first base, the Astros’ left-fielder made one of the most crucial plays of the ALCS, and probably the most important play of his career.
Brantley dove and caught — off the tip of his glove — a ball that looked like a sure base hit off of Hicks’ bat, then swiftly got up and threw a bullet to first base to get Judge, who was already on second base and attempted to sprint back after the catch to no avail. Brantley was just too good. Double play, inning over.
Have a feeling we are going to be watching this for a while. pic.twitter.com/voWjyNaKfv
— MLB (@MLB) October 20, 2019
On the other side of the outfield, right-fielder Josh Reddick made an impressive defensive play of his own — another diving catch in an absolute bullet from Brett Gardner in the top of the sixth that saved the tying run from scoring when the game was still 3-2.
Hinch wasted no time after that close call, pulling Urquidy and calling on Will Harris, who made quick work of LeMahieu for the last out.
Pressly’s quick exit
Ryan Pressly threw one lonely pitch for the Astros before exiting the game with what the team is calling right-knee discomfort.
After Josh James loaded the bases with two out in the bottom of the third, Hinch called on the right-hander out of the bullpen.
Pressly needed just one pitch to get Gregorius to softly ground out, but the pitcher seemed to be in some pain as he fielded that ball and tagged the runner.
He’s now listed as day-to-day.
The World Series stage is set
Every pitch has led to this moment.
The Nationals will head to Houston for the start of the 2019 World Series on Oct. 22. The series will shift to Washington in Game 3 on Oct. 25.