For the first time in the history of the franchise, Houston hosted a Game 7 of a League Championship Series, and the hometown Astros delivered a Game 7 performance fans will remember for a long, long time.
The 4-0 victory over the New York Yankees on Saturday didn’t set any season-bests for runs scored and it wasn’t the Astros’ first shutout of the year, but the Game 7 win was one of the team’s finest performances — in all aspects of the game — of a long 2017 campaign on a night when the team needed it most.
Offensively, the team was clicking all game — although for a perilous few innings, it looked like it may be all for naught in a textbook Houston choke job, and a great home-run-robbing catch in right field by Yankees regular-season MVP candidate Aaron Judge in the bottom of the second did nothing to ease the tension early on.
In each of the first four innings, the Astros had a runner in scoring position (and in three instances with only one out), but failed to get a runner home in those situations (although designated hitter Evan Gattis did get the Astros on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth with a leadoff home run).
Then, in the fifth inning, the Astros finally unleashed one of those crooked-number innings that fans have become accustomed to, with regular-season MVP contender Jose Altuve belting a one-out solo home run to get things started, and a revived Brian McCann coming through with the clutch two-out, two run double for the 4-0 lead.
Defensively, the Astros were once again flawless and came through in the crucial moments.
The top of the fifth was the only inning where the Yankees really threatened, but at the time, the game could have gone either way with the Astros leading just 1-0. With runners on the corners and one out, third baseman Alex Bregman made a heads-up play on a grounder to gun down the Yankees’ Greg Bird trying to advance to home plate.
Altuve made some nifty plays when the Astros went into their extreme infield shift for the Yankees’ lefty batters, and even on a play appearing to be heading for disaster, center fielder George Springer leapt to make a catch and a key out in the top of the seventh while colliding with left fielder Martin Gonzalez.
Finally, there was the biggest surprise of this game — the fact that the Astros were able to find something even better than one Justin Verlander (who was named the ALCS MVP): Charlie Morton plus Lance McCullers, Jr.
The two pitchers combined forces to deliver probably the Astros’ best pitching outing of the season, holding a potent Yankees offense to just three base hits in a combined complete-game shutout. The aforementioned jam in the top of the fifth was the only time the Yankees had a runner in scoring position.
Getting the start, Morton threw five innings and surrendered just two hits and one walk with five strikeouts. McCullers Jr. picked up right where Morton left off, throwing the final four innings, only giving up a weakly-hit single to the first batter he faced in the top of the sixth and one walk while striking out six batters.
The American League Championship certainly didn’t come easily for the Astros (few things worth doing come that way). The Yankees pushed the Astros to the brink and forced them to put together a Game 7 masterpiece to earn the pennant.
Now, on to the World Series.