The Houston Astros were the laughing-stock of baseball for a few years losing 100 plus games in three straight years but made strides last year improving to a 70-92 record. The Astros hired a new relatively inexperienced manager in A.J. Hinch at the end of the 2014 season after the failed Bo Porter experiment. Sports Illustrated said this team would be good, and could make a World Series run in 2017 with the young talent coming up. The Astros are now ahead of schedule as they have advanced to the ALDS versus the Kansas City Royals after beating the New York Yankees in the Wild-Card game last night.
Climbing Tal’s Hill had been with you all season, even before the national media started hoping aboard Club Astros. Earlier in the offseason, I predicted the Astros would finish at .500: How Many Games Will the Astros Win in 2015? I was following the Nationals’ model, and they made an Astros-like jump the third year, so this was not out of the possibility. But I wanted to take a second to guide you through the Wild-Card game from Tuesday night.
The First Inning
The way the game started had to worry Astros fans that this was going to be a long night. Jose Altuve and George Springer looked overmatched against Masahiro Tanaka as both struck out. Carlos Correa later got the bat on the ball, but it was a harmless ball to centerfield. One has to wonder if the noise that the Yankees crowd was making by standing on their feet and cheering the entire first inning. I remember thinking that I wish us fans could support the Astros the same way those Yankees fans did in that first inning. Then, the fans sat down and started eating their hot dogs and drinking their beer.
Dallas Keuchel walked a batter in the first inning, and the ESPN broadcasters were saying that this does not look like the normal Keuchel, the Astros should not have brought him back on short rest. He then responded by getting a strikeout to end the inning. The people who know Keuchel, they know that he has dominated the Yankees this season. Keuchel also tends to struggle in the first inning, and then settles in and pitches better.
The Second Inning
The Astros didn’t have to wait long to get on the scoreboard in the second inning as Colby Rasmus hit a first-pitch homer that is trying to catch up to Albert Pujols‘ 2005 home run off Brad Lidge. It was a bomb that basically took the Yankees out of the game with Keuchel on the mounds. The Astros then loaded the bases with two outs on a Luis Valbuena single and walked to both Chris Carter and Jason Castro. Altuve was up with two outs, but he was not able to make solid contact.
After two outs, Keuchel was pitching to Rob Refsnyder, and something very common happened. Keuchel got a comebacker to the mound. With his excellent fielding position, this was an easy out after allowing one runner to reach base.
The Fourth Inning
For the second time in the game, an Astros hitter took Tanaka deep on the first pitch of an inning. Full me once, shame on you, full me twice, shame on me. Carlos Gomez too Tanaka deep, giving the Astros a commanding 2-0 lead at the time.
The Sixth Inning
More from Climbing Tal's Hill
- Houston Astros: A Lineup Change to Spark Offense
- Astros prospect Hunter Brown throws 6 shutout innings in debut
- Always faithful Astros World Series champion Josh Reddick defends the title
- Michael Conforto declines Astros’ 2-year, $30 million offer
- Alex Bregman goes off in August, leads Astros
This is the inning that A.J.Hinch almost broke his trust with his ace Keuchel. Didi Gregorius lead-off with a single, Brett Gardner struck out, and Chris Young grounded into a potential double play. Gregorius while trying to break up the double play, barreled into Altuve as he attempted to throw to first. Gregorius didn’t start sliding until he got to the bag; there was a moment of panic with all Astros players and staff. Altuve jumped up and played ball. However, Hinch saw something that he didn’t like with Keuchel, so Hinch went to the mound to talk to him. Keuchel turned his back as to say there is no way you are taking me out. They locked eye-to-eye, and Hinch saw what he needed to see and left Keuchel in. He got the next hitter to fly out to center field.
The Astros added a run in the seventh inning after Chris Carter got his third walk of the day. Jonathan Villar pinch ran for Carter and stole second base. He advanced to third on a ground out and later scored on a flick off the bat for a single. This run gave the Astros a more comfortable lead in the eighth and ninth innings.
The Yankees bullpen prevented any further runs from scoring as Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller came in throwing heat and shut the Astros down J.J. Watt style. However, the damage was done prior to the eighth and ninth. There was so much talk about how shaky the Astros bullpen has been recently, but the trio of Tony Sipp, Will Harris, and Luke Gregerson held the Yankees’ offense to zero hits in three innings pitched. The only blemish would be Sipp’s walk in the seventh inning, but that never blossomed into any danger. Gregerson looked absolutely dominate in his inning to pick up the save; the Yankees looked like they had no shot.
To see the agony of the Yankees’ fans in the stands was hard, but we have to remember that the Astros have been nobodies for a while, we are not used to crushing other teams’ hearts. We can get used to it though.