HOUSTON – The Astros are headed back to the World Series for the second time in three seasons and the third time overall in franchise history.
It comes after a dramatic Game 6 win on Saturday at Minute Maid Park. For the second time in as many games at their home ball park the last pitch thrown by the New York Yankees was hit over the fence for a walkoff home run. And in this case, Jose Altuve's 9th inning home run clinched the American league championship series and puts the Astros in the World Series.
What did we learn from the Astros ALCS Game 6 win ?
The Astros Bullpen is pretty good
Despite the fact the air was sucked out of Minute Maid Park nearly four hours after the first pitch when closer Roberto Osuna gave up the 2-run, game-tying home run to D.J. LaMahieu in the top of the ninth inning, the bullpen which handled al 27 outs was tremendous in bringing home the win.
It started with Brad Peacock's brilliant 1st inning, he needed just seven pitches to set down the first three Yankees in order. Then the high leverage appearances started.
Josh James entered in the 2nd inning with two runners on and struck out Brett Gardner.
Ryan Pressly entered in the 3rd inning with two runners on and needed just one pitch to retire Didi Gregorius on an easy groundout.
Jose Urquidy got the next eight outs, striking out five Yankees along the way while allowing just a solo home run to Gio Urshela.
Will Harris entered in the 6th inning with two runners on and needed just one pitch to retire LaMahieu on a nice play from shortstop Carlos Correa. Harris handled the seventh inning, too, getting his four outs on just 13 pitches.
Joe Smith had the eighth and thanks to a double play, he, too fired off a clean inning.
The Astros are an elite defensive team
All throughout the season, people who paid close attention the Astros knew they were an excellent defensive team, arguably the best in the majors. Well after this series, there should be no doubt how tremendous a defensive team this really is. There were three plays in particular that stood out in game six.
With runners on 2nd and 3rd and just one out in the sixth inning, Josh Reddick made a sensational diving catch to rob Brett Gardner of a single. He finished off the dive with a face plant, but made the out. In the next inning, it was Michael Brantley turn to turn in an excellent diving catch. His came with Aaron Judge on first base and Aaron Hicks at the plate and one out. Hicks smacked a singing line drive that Brantley laid out for, gloved, then jumped up and fired a strike to first base to double-up Judge and end the innings.
The double play turned by Altuve and Carlos Correa to end the eighth inning was also a thing of beauty. Altuve was shifted up the middle, so he had to range far to his left to field the grounder from Gary Sanchez. He grabbed the bouncer, turned and fired to Correa, who caught the ball toe-tapped second base before firing an absolute laser to first base to complete the double play. Correa's throw measured out at 94.5 mph.
The Astros were not going to be denied
Nearly 19 minutes had passed since the Astros saw their lead that had lasted three and a half hours disappear. Then Altuve saw Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman's 2-1 pitch and crushed it 407 feet to left center field for the game-winning home run. The Astros wanted no part of a game seven, even with Gerrit Cole ready to take the ball. They faced elimination in the division series, but gave the ball to Cole, escaped and advanced. This time they avoided elimination and march into the World Series.
Chapman had faced exactly 150 batters in his postseason career when Jose Altuve stepped into the box to face him with two outs in the 9th inning. He'd allowed exactly one home run in the postseason to those hitters. Altuve joined Rajai Davis as the only players that have ever homered off Chapman in the playoffs.