SportsPulse: The Houston Astros are returning to the World Series for the second time in three years after defeating the Yankees, but must go through a red-hot Nationals team if they want to hoist the trophy.
HOUSTON — With one swing of the bat, Jose Altuve sent the baseball screaming into the air Saturday, and a sellout crowd screaming into the night, winning the Houston Astros the American League pennant.
The game took some bizarre twists and turns Saturday evening, but they’re headed to the World Series.
The Astros, who blew a 4-2 lead on DJ LeMahieu’s ninth-inning homer, came right back in the bottom of the 10th with Altuve’s blast over the fence in left-center for a 6-4 win in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
Roberto Osuna gave up the homer in the top of the ninth, which tied a game that the Astros had been leading since the first inning.
The Yankees brought in Aroldis Chapman for the bottom of the frame. After a two-out walk for George Springer, Altuve clubbed an 84-mph slider for his second home run of the series – and fifth of the postseason.
Altuve was named ALCS MVP, going 8-for-23 with six runs in the series.
The Astros get a World Series date with the Washington Nationals where they will be trying to win their second title in three years – while the Nats vie for their first in franchise history
And, now, after all of the dizzying moves with the Astros and Yankees numbing the senses with their “bullpenning” for all of the world to see, we will be reverting back to ol’-fashioned baseball.
We will see future Hall of Famers, and former Cy Young and MVP winners in Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke.
It will be a matchup of the most expensive rotations in World Series history with $200-million-dollar pitchers in Scherzer and Greinke, and $100 million pitchers in Stephen Strasburg and Verlander, to go along with the soon-to-be the richest pitcher in baseball history in Gerrit Cole.
We’ll have a showcase of MVP candidates in third basemen Alex Bregman and Anthony Rendon.
It’s not the Yankees-Los Angeles Dodgers matchup that Major League Baseball and Fox executives wanted, but, this will certainly do.
Gone will be the torturous bullpen games.
We’ll see legitimate marquee pitching matchups beginning Tuesday at Minute Maid Park with Scherzer and Cole in Game 1, Strasburg and Verlander in Game 2, and Greinke and Patrick Corbin.
“I think people would rather see that,’’ Cole said, “than TBA vs. TBA.’’
There were five pitching changes in the first three innings alone in Game 6, with 14 pitchers used overall. Nobody besides the families of Brad Peacock and Chad Green will ever remember the starting pitchers in this game.
It was ugly, but the Astros will take it, slaying the mighty Yankees
“Beauty,’’ Hinch said, “is in the eye of the beholder.’’
Pardon Hinch for now wanting to go back to the traditional style of winning, hardly finding the task of managing bullpen games enjoyable.
“It’s miserable. I love when JV or Gerrit goes out there and throws nine scoreless. Those are the fun ones,” Hinch said before Saturday’s game.
“It’s crazy. We’re in the Game 6 of the ALCS and we’re going to have upwards of double-digit number of pitchers pitching in a game of such magnitude.
“Welcome to 2019.’’
For the Yankees, it’s the first time since the 1910s that they’ve got a decade without reaching the World Series.
And for a franchise that has 27 World Series championships, it leaves the question whether this season was a failure.
“I hate that question,’’ Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I know as an organization, myself, our players, we’re chasing a championship and we’re doing everything we can. We want to be champions. So that’s the goal. That’s the focus.
“Putting a label, success, fail, all that, I don’t really have time for it, honestly.’’
Certainly, the Astros have pulled off one of the most amazing turnarounds in baseball history, losing 324 homers in 2011-2013, to now winning 100 or more games the last three seasons.
“I still remember when we lost a 100 games three years in a row,’’ All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve said. “It seems like we were in the very, very bottom. So the only hope I had was to keep working hard because everybody keeps telling me, “Yeah, we’re going to win a championship, we’re going to be a really good team. I wanted to be a part of that.’
“It was hard to believe but it happened. I think we learned a lot from losing.’’
The Astros even flaunted their depth in this clincher. They used seven different pitchers, six traditional relievers. Their first baseman, who entered the game with just one hit in 20 at-bats this series, was the offensive hero when Yuli Gurriel hit a three-run homer off Green in the first inning.
The defensive hero was Michael Brantley, who signed a free-agent contract last winter primarily for his bat, made one of the most remarkable postseason plays in franchise history. Aaron Hicks hit a blooper to no-man’s land, only for Brantley to dive, snag the ball with his outstretched glove, jump up, and then throw out Aaron Judge trying to scramble back to first base.
While the Astros move on, the Yankees will re-evaluate their strategy of putting their resources into their bullpen.
They passed on making trades for Verlander, Cole and Greinke over the past few years, with that trio landing with the Astros, and lost out to the in the free-agent bidding for Corbin.
But they paid the price. Their starters pitched the fewest innings by any team to reach the ALCS, with their starters lasting an average of just 4 ⅓ innings this postseason.
Maybe, they’ll go back to being the Yankees again, and write that $220 million-plus paycheck for Cole.
Who knows, maybe, they’ll even start emulating the Astros.