Here are the key plays and takeaways from the Houston Astros winning Game One of the Wild Card round.
Jose Altuve drove in the winning run. That statement alone is perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Houston Astros 4-1 win over the Twins in the first game of the Wild Card round. After enduring months of unfair scorn from media figures and opposing fans, not to mention a difficult season at the plate, the team’s heart and soul came through in the clutch.
While the fine folks at ESPN are wiping away their tears, the Astros are back in business. It looked like much of the same for the first six innings as the team’s offense sputtered as it had for most of September. But some huge at-bats and a three-run rally in the ninth backed an incredible pitching performance from the tandem of Zack Greinke and Framber Valdez.
Springer’s RBI single in the seventh put the Astros on the board after trailing 1-0, but a baserunning mistake by Martin Maldonado cost them a chance at more. With two on and two outs in the ninth, Springer reached on an error by shortstop Jorge Polanco. That set the stage for the ultimate redemption and proved a backbreaker for the Twins.
When Altuve stepped to the plate, fans were dying for a big hit. Instead, the former MVP worked a walk on a 3-2 count to bring in the go-ahead run. Professional hitter Michael Brantley drove in two more with a single, giving the team some cushion which, as it turned out, wouldn’t be needed.
For his part, Greinke battled through four innings, allowing one run on two hits and three walks. He never seemed to settle in and his command wasn’t the best, but he got out of some jams, one of which came courtesy of a great barehanded play at third by Alex Bregman. Valdez came in and walked his first two batters in the fifth, but another great Bregman play helped end the threat.
After that, Valdez settled in beautifully, setting down the Twins in order in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. He didn’t allow a hit until giving up a pair of singles in the ninth, but he got out of that jam as well. It was an outstanding performance from a young arm who’s really blossomed this year, and credit to manager Dusty Baker for letting him finish it off.
Are the Astros back? It feels like it a bit, although I hesitate to say it for certain. But this is the type of game that can give a team some real confidence and momentum, which is exactly what this group needed. They were celebrating in the locker room after the game and they deserved every bit of it.
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The team’s pitching staff is in great shape after only using two pitchers, while the Twins used six. Baker declined to name a Game Two starter, but the presumption is that it’ll be Jose Urquidy, and that Cristian Javier will be available to pitch multiple innings like Valdez did. The team also has fully-rested relievers Ryan Pressly, Blake Taylor, Enoli Paredes, Andre Scrubb, Brooks Raley and Josh James.
Back to the lineup, all nine of the team’s hitters reached base safely in this game. Brantley had two hits, Altuve walked twice and Correa reached base three times. Bregman and Josh Reddick were probably the least productive hitters today but they still could’ve been worse. The first six innings were concerning, but it’s great to see this group come through in the end.
The Twins, meanwhile, have now lost 17 straight postseason games. You have to wonder what a loss like this will do to their psyche. It’s a short series, and with the Game One victory and with their pitching staff in such great shape, the Astros appear to have the advantage.
Can they close the series out in two games? We’ll find out on Wednesday. The game begins at noon CT and airs on ESPN2, although you might want to watch it with your TV muted.