Altuve Blast Wins the Pennant! Astros are going back to the World Series!

Jose Altuve won the American League Championship with one swing of the bat, cranking a two-run home run off Aroldis Chapman to send the Houston Astros back to the World Series for the second time in three seasons.

Can you believe it?

Yes way, Jose.

That’s your ALCS MVP. And he was most deserving, delivering the Astros third pennant in franchise history after an absolutely crushing top half of the ninth.

The Astros had a two-run lead and needed just three outs from their closer Roberto Osuna to end the ALCS against the New York Yankees.

And then the unthinkable happened.

Osuna surrendered a game-tying, two-run home run to DJ Lemahieu in the top of the ninth. It was Albert Pujols all over again.

Except it wasn’t.

After Chapman retired the first two Astros of the ninth with relative ease, George Springer worked a walk. Unbelievably, the Yankees chose not to pitch around Altuve—even with Jake Marisnick, who was inserted as a defensive replacement, on-deck.

And then the unthinkable happened…again.

Altuve became just the seventh player to end the LCS or World Series with a walkoff blast.

Are you kidding me?

Wow.

Altuve was absolutely the hero, but this was a complete team-effort tonight.

Brad Peacock opened the game for the Astros, becoming only the seventh pitcher to start a postseason game the day after pitching in one—and the first to do so prior to the World Series commencing.

And he set the tone for the Astros’ pitching staff. Peacock began with a three-pitch strikeout of LeMahieu, who came into tonight hitting .381 (8-for-21) in the ALCS. He got Aaron Judge to ground out on the next pitch and quickly retired Gleyber Torres as well. It only took seven pitches, all of which were strikes, for Peacock to get through the first three hitters.

Chad Green opened for the Yankees, a pitcher the Astros had seen 53 pitches from in the series before tonight. That familiarity proved to pay off.

Altuve—he of an 1.126 OPS at home in his postseason career, fifth-best all-time at home—ripped a one-out double into the gap on a two-strike pitch. After a Michael Brantley flyout to centerfield, it looked like the Astros might strand a runner in scoring position yet again. Alex Bregman worked a walk on five pitches to bring up Yuli Gurriel, who ranked second in MLB with 44 RBI at home since July 1.

Ah, home sweet home.

Gurriel deposited a three-run homer to the Crawford Boxes to strike deep into the Yankees’ heart and give the Astros a commanding lead early.

Gurriel’s blast was Houston’s first hit with runners in scoring position and two outs in the ALCS and further cemented his status as one of the most clutch Astros ever. This became the second postseason series ever with a three-run homer in the first inning in consecutive games. It hadn’t happened since 1932.

More importantly, it put the Astros in prime position, one in which they had not faltered all season.

That was also the third three-run homer for Yuli, who is firmly entrenched in Astros’ lore.

Peacock started the second much like the first, getting two quick outs. But a double from Didi Gregorius followed by an RBI single for Gary Sanchez helped the trim the Astros’ lead to 3-1. After a walk to Gio Urshela, AJ Hinch summoned Josh James to relive Peacock. James made his manager look smart by striking out Brett Gardner to end the threat.

Of note: Neither starting pitcher went two innings, a rarity in postseason baseball.

James got into trouble himself in the third. A walk to Edwin Encarnacion, who had one hit in the series, loaded the bases with two outs. In fact, James faced six batters and didn’t throw a first-pitch strike to a single one. That forced Hinch to call upon Ryan Pressly, who needed just one pitch to get Didi Gregorius on a grounder to Pressly to leave the bases loaded.

Unfortunately, Pressly hurt his surgically-repaired knee on the play and was unable to come back out for the fourth inning.

That meant the Astros needed length from Jose Urquidy, who was still pretty raw, in terms of Major League experience.

He looked good against his first batter, striking out Sanchez to start the fourth. Gio Urshela followed with a solo homer on the first pitch to make it a one-run game.

Brett Gardner crushed an offering down the line that nearly tied the game—and probably would have at Yankee Stadium—but somehow it went foul. Gardner ended up with a single, yet Urquidy was unfazed. He retired LeMahieu on a flyout and struck out Judge on three pitches—culminating with a nasty changeup—to end the inning.

Both teams were backed by outstanding defense and solid pitching over the next two innings to keep the game a one-run contest.

In the bottom half of the sixth, Altuve worked a leadoff walk against Tommy Kahnle—the first Yankees’ pitcher to appear three straight days all season. Brantley followed with a single that put runners at first and third with no outs. Though he didn’t improve the Astros’ lack of hitting with runners in scoring position, Bregman beat out a double-play ball to give the Astros a 4-2 lead.

There was a chance for more, but Yordan Alvarez struck out again to destroy the threat. It may be time to sit the Astros’ rookie phenom, who’s mired in a deep slump.

But then again, maybe he goes Cody Bellinger in the World Series. Guess we’ll find out.

Judge singled off the glove of Correa to put the leadoff man aboard in the seventh inning. Will Harris got Torres to foul out next to put the double play in order, though it ultimately came in a majorly unexpected manner.

Aaron Hicks hit a dying quail to leftfield that seemed destined to fall in for a hit. Brantley wasn’t having any of it.

Brantley made a stupendous diving grab and doubled off Judge with a quick throw to first to retire the side. You’re gonna need to see this twice.

Pretty sweet call by Joe Buck. Props.

Joe Smith struck out Encarnacion on three pitches to start the eighth. A one-out single from Gregorius brought the tying run to the plate. The defense showed up yet again, helping the Astros turn a double play on weak bouncer that Altuve flipped to Correa, who fired a rocket to first.

The Astros had yet another chance to play add-on in the eighth. Even with some bad luck, they had runners at first and third with two outs. A walk to Correa loaded the bases. Hinch chose to pinch-hit for the woeful Alvarez with Aledmys Diaz. Diaz got ahead 2-0, but ultimately grounded out to keep the Yankees within striking distance.

And strike they did.

But it wasn’t enough—was never going to be enough—when you give Jose Altuve an opportunity. The guy who was told to go home years ago; he was too small, didn’t have enough pop. When you give a man like that a moment, he will take advantage. And he put Houston on his back, sending the city and his teammates into jubilation—and back to the World Series for the second time in three years.

Ryan Pressley UPDATE:

If true, that could be a huge key to the World Series for Houston.

Game 1 will be Tuesday at 7:08 CT. Gerrit Cole. Max Scherzer. Ok, time for me to book my flight back home. See y’all there.

Box score and videos here.

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scottydouble
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