Even more stunning than blowing a 4-0 lead late in Game 4 (and the managerial quick hook to remove starting pitcher Lance McCullers that led to the meltdown) of the ALCS and even more stunning than letting Game 3 get away from them, was the Houston Astros’ frustrating inability to click on offense, as they saw a 2-0 series lead quickly turn into a 3-2 deficit after three depressing days at Yankee Stadium.
After Friday’s Game 6, Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander (who was again marvelous in the 7-1 win) called the Astros’ offense a “sleeping giant,” and through four innings Friday, it continued to hit the snooze bar against the New York Yankees’ pitching.
But, then the offense finally got stirred from its slumber by the unlikeliest of sources.
The Astros only had one hit in the game when third baseman Alex Bregman led off the bottom of the fifth with a walk. After a groundout moved Bregman to second base, Yankees starting pitcher Luis Servino pitched around Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis. At the time, walking Gattis seemed like a savvy move, as catcher Brian McCann, who had, to that point, posted a putrid .074 postseason batting average was due up next.
Then, in a true testament to the unpredictability of the MLB postseason, McCann raked a 2-2 pitch to right field for an RBI ground-rule double, breaking a scoreless tie.
After center fielder George Springer walked to load the bases, a shallow fly ball hit to center field by still-slumping right fielder Josh Reddick threatened the Astros’ big chance to put a crooked number on the scoreboard in jeopardy.
But, then a usual suspect, second baseman Jose Altuve, showed why he is a top AL MVP candidate by smashing the first pitch he saw (a common habit for him) into left field for a two-run single.
Holding onto a 3-1 lead, the Astros’ offense truly looked like its old, outstanding self in the bottom of the eighth inning, as the bats heated up to put another crooked number on the scoreboard.
In a classic moment of one-upmanship, Altuve answered a solo home run by fellow MVP candidate Aaron Judge by smacking a solo dinger of his own just barely into the Crawford Boxes to lead off the inning.
Three straight hits from the heart of the Astros’ order — a double by shortstop Carlos Correa, a single by first baseman Yuli Gurriel and a two-run double by Bregman — got Minute Maid Park rocking, and then a competent at-bat by Gattis (a one-out sac fly RBI) accounted for the Astros’ final run.
Not to take away from another outstanding defensive effort by the Astros (highlighted by an amazing leaping grab in deep center field by Springer in the top of the seventh that saved at least two runs and prevented another Yankees rally), but the story of this game was the return of the Astros’ offense, which only put up nine combined runs in the first five games of the ALCS before posting seven runs Friday.
The giant woke up in Game 6, and if it stays awake for Game 7, the Astros could very well be punching their ticket to the 2017 World Series.