HOUSTON – Isn’t October baseball special? The great pitching, timely hitting, and the fan bases of both the Yankees and Astros are certainly playing a factor in this ALCS. That is what playoff baseball is supposed to be like right?
Are you ready for Game 7 tonight at Minute Maid Park? I think I know the answer to that so let’s move on.
Let’s begin with the takeaways from Friday night and the Astros' 7-1 whipping of the Yankees that is allowing us to enjoy another day of baseball.
1.) JUSTIN VERLANDER was outstanding again. He’s now 4-1 in elimination games in his career and that was his second win of this ALCS and second domination of this talented Yankees lineup. JV had 13 strikeouts in Game 2 and struck out eight Friday night over his seven innings of work. The man can flat out pitch and is perfect since coming to Houston.
If tonight's game gets interesting, I won’t be shocked if No. 35 trots out for an inning. Don’t rule that out just yet. I’m sure Kate Upton would approve. She was fired up the entire night.
2.) OFFENSIVE SPARK RETURNS: Wasn't that a relief to see the Brian McCann single and Jose Altuve’s clutch double in the fifth inning? Then in the eighth, the offense came alive again. That was Astros baseball and we need more of where that came from in Game 7. More on that in the KEYS TO GAME 7 below.
3.) DEFENSE WAS SPECTACULAR AGAIN: Early in the game Carlos Correa had a nice play to start a double play and then that huge catch in center field by George Springer off the bat of Todd Frazier had Minute Maid Park rocking later in the game.
Now to the Keys for Game 7. This is the Astros' first time in this situation since Oct. 21, 2004. Yes, here we are on Oct. 21, 2017. Go figure!
1.) KEEP COMPOSED: Yes, it’s a Game 7 in October and yes all of the country will be watching. But at the end of the day, this is baseball and it’s game No. 173 the season for the Astros.
Friday’s win was special and it was timely but it’s a new day and it is all about these next nine innings. This has been the Astros goal has been since pitchers and catchers reported for spring training back in February at their digs in West Palm Beach.
2.) MORTON’S DAY ON THE BUMP: This Astros pitching staff is talented and deep. One of general manager Jeff Luhnow’s best moves has turned out to be the signing of Charlie Morton. He’d had injury issues with his hamstring but he has really stayed relatively healthy this season and was a double-digit winner.
He brings the heat with his fastball, and also has a nice slider and curve ball as part of his attack. He’s confident and the clubhouse really believes in him. So does A.J. Hinch, who’s giving him a second start in this ALCS.
3.) BULLPEN ON ALERT: As much as I like Morton, this is a Game 7 and the leash will be short like it should be.
“This is all about getting out. You get outs, you’ll stay in the game,” Hinch said.
Game 7 or not, he’ll stick with Morton until things get uncomfortable and the bullpen arms better be ready. I’d expect Lance McCullers Jr. will be the first man up in the pen and really the rest of the staff will follow. This is an “all hands on deck” day at Minute Maid Park. If you are in uniform, have the glove ready and bat nearby because you could be called upon. Remember, this is a win or go home evening with a trip to the Fall Classic at stake.
4.) DEFENSE NEEDS TO SHINE: As I stated earlier, this is not the time to have any defensive lapses. There is a ton of pressure on these guys to produce in this Game 7 not only with the bat but also with the glove. We saw it in Friday’s win and need more of the same tonight. I expect to see one or two gems that will get the Astros fans roaring.
5.) MANAGERS CHESS MATCH: I’ve written this before and will again because these are the playoffs and every game the stakes are higher. We see is during the regular season and the 162 game grind but in October the chess match goes to a higher level. Both Hinch and Joe Girardi are brilliant skippers that know how to manage games and use their roster.
They will be challenged most likely when deciding how and when to using pitching staff options tonight. The Yankees bullpen is solid and probably has the edge of the Astros in this category.
6.) CONTROL THE YANKEE BATS: This is a follow up on key point 2 about Morton or any Astros pitcher. We saw again Friday how dangerous Aaron Judge can be. He blasted another home run and has had a nice series to this point. Fortunately Judge’s dinger was late when the game was out of reach for New York. Didi Gregorius is a tough out as are guys likes of Greg Bird, Todd Frazier and Gary Sanchez.
7.) FANS FEVER: Friday the Astros won the game and the fans were outstanding. I love it when the roof is closed because it is a factor. The Astros like it closed as well, which is why they petitioned the suits at MLB to keep it closed whether the forecast was good or not.
The Astros Nation delivered Friday and will need to ramp it up even more in Game 7 tonight. Those orange towels were waving and it was a sight to see all evening but definitely during the crucial parts of the game.
So there you have it Astros and KPRC Channel 2 fans. Game 7 was not expected after that fast 2-0 start but here we are. First pitch is at 7:08 p.m. and by 10:15 p.m. the outcome should be determined. Will this be a season that was or a season that is still far from complete?
The World Series awaits and so do the Dodgers who have already captured the National League pennant and their first World Series in 29 years. They want to write their own Hollywood script but the Astros hopefully will have something to say about that.
Enjoy the game! By the way, the high in LA Tuesday will be a blistering 101 degrees for Game 1 of the World Series. Never hurts to plan ahead!