After an exciting, intense Game 1 of the ALCS, Game 2 between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees could not have possibly had any more drama, could it?
Well, Game 2 answered that question with a proverbial, “hold my beer,” delivering just about every type of big-time moment one could hope for in a playoff baseball game — especially if you’re a fan of the home team Astros.
The first electric moments came in the top of the third courtesy of a pair of defensive gems from Astros right fielder Josh Reddick. First, he robbed Yankees designated hitter Chase Headley of a possible home run (it would have, at least, bounced off the top of the wall for extra bases) with a leaping grab. Reddick then ended the inning by gunning down Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner trying to stretch a double into a triple.
In the bottom of the fourth, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa broke a scoreless tie with a home run that barely cleared the right field wall (and nearly created a baby Bartman in Houston when a young fan came close to touching the ball before it traveled over the wall).
“I love that kid” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “I want to leave that kid tickets.”
The Yankees tied things back up, 1-1, in the top of the fifth in a truly goofy baseball moment when third baseman Todd Frazier hit a ball that got stuck high on the left-center field wall. Initially, Frazier rounded the bases as for a two-run inside-the-park home run as, for a few moments, no one seemed to know what to make of this predicament. Eventually, it was ruled a one-run RBI ground-rule double.
Then, let’s talk about the guy who had the Minute Maid Park buzzing with excitement for all nine innings: Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander.
Verlander gave the bullpen the day off, as (save for the fourth inning) he was nearly untouchable, surrendering just four hits and the one run with 13 strikeouts (a career postseason high) to just one walk.
“When I went back out for the ninth inning that was extremely loud, and then during the ninth inning all those guys got to two strikes, and that was probably the loudest I heard a ballpark or close to it,” Verlander said. “And I’ve been part of some pretty loud moments, but the way those fans were pushing me to finish that game, or finish the ninth inning and have a chance to win the game, I mean that matters. It gets your adrenaline going.”
Every inning, Verlander kept the crowd in the game, while the normally high-scoring offense was quiet. And less than 24 hours after Game 1 starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel became just the third Astro ever with double-digit strikeouts in a game, Verlander became the fourth.
Then, the biggest moment came last, as the Astros won the game in everyone’s favorite fashion: a walk-off. MVP candidate Jose Altuve reached on a one-out single, followed by a double raked to right-center field by Correa.
“I tell Altuve, ‘we got to do this for the team, we got to come through right now in this inning,’” Correa said “He’s like, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ So he got a base hit and I said, ‘OK, I got to do something here, we talked about it.’ So, 3-2 count, I was just trying to get on top of a fastball, and he threw a good fastball to hit and I hit it in the gap.”
In the truest display of the heart and hustle that have defined Altuve’s MLB career, the 5-foot-5 dynamo raced all the way from first base to home, and just when it looked like a good relay throw would beat him to the plate, Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez was unable to cleanly field a short-hopped ball.
“It’s the greatest feeling ever,” Correa said. “Winning is always fun, but winning in the playoffs and such an important spot is even bigger. So really glad he was able to score.”
Altuve was all-in on that play, and that’s exactly how it has to be in the postseason with the game, and maybe the series, on the line. The Astros really needed to win Games 1 and 2 with their aces on the mound, and they managed to do just that. That’s how series are won and lost in playoff baseball.
“There’s just so much small margins in these games,” Hinch said. “If you look at this game as a whole, there were just so many small things: the relay throw from Correa to get Gardner, the bizarre — I’ve been here three years but I haven’t seen a ball get lodged in that left-center field area like that. The home run in the front row to these big moments, Verlander up to 120-plus pitches. There’s just very little margin for error to win these games. The short hop to Sanchez that Altuve scored on. There’s just no room to breathe in these games.”
The Astros defended their home field, didn’t allow the Yankees to gain an edge, and with a 2-0 ALCS lead, have a little room to exhale in the series as a whole, even if the games themselves won’t allow for it. The Astros now head to Yankee Stadium on Monday for Game 3, upper hand still intact.