Houston hitters continue to seize second chances
Alvarez, Bregman spark rally in decisive 7th inning of ALCS Game 4
NEW YORK -- For much of the 2022 season, en route to their respective division titles, the Astros and Yankees jockeyed for position atop the American League. The No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in a best-of-seven series were on the line in anticipation of a heavyweight bout between two of the game’s giants come October.
But the difference between pennant-winning teams and the ones that come up short is an uncanny ability to make their opponents beat themselves, too.
The Astros have turned that into their specialty this year, and in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series on Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, they turned it into their fourth trip to the World Series in the past six seasons.
In a decisive two-run seventh inning, Houston capitalized on a close play at first base and an error at second with a game-tying single from Yordan Alvarez and a go-ahead single from Alex Bregman, guiding the Astros to a 6-5 victory in the series clincher and putting a bow on a sweep of New York.
“To a man, almost, they were saying, ‘Hey, boys, here’s our break,’” manager Dusty Baker recalled while wearing a champagne-soaked AL champion T-shirt. “And if you think it’s a break, you can turn it into a break. It starts with the thought process.
“It’s like, even if it’s not a break, you’ve got to pretend that it’s a break. And then next thing you know, boom, we got two runs out of it. The power of positive thinking and the power of belief can take you a long way and to great heights.”
The defining rally came against one of the Yankees’ highest-leverage relievers in Jonathan Loáisiga, and it started -- as it often does for this team -- with leadoff man Jose Altuve finding a way to reach base.
After another chorus of boos rained down from 46,545 fans in the Bronx, Altuve hit a slow grounder to the right of first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who had to range far from the bag to corral the ball. That left Loáisiga and Altuve in a foot race to reach first, and in a photo finish, Altuve’s foot landed mere seconds before Loáisiga’s did. The Yankees challenged the play, but the call was upheld.
“I just try to focus on playing the game,” Altuve said before the contest. “I do as best as I can to keep everything away and just focus on the game and be ready to help my team. It doesn’t matter where I play.
“Obviously the Yankees’ fans are really, you know, fans. And they get into the game a lot. They really love the game. How [else] can I say it? It’s a little different here than other places.”
ALCS MVP Jeremy Peña followed that up with a grounder to the same vicinity, but this time, second baseman Gleyber Torres was there to grab what looked like an inning-ending double play ball. However, Torres didn’t make a pinpoint toss and shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa wasn’t well-positioned to receive it, permitting both Altuve and Peña to be safe.
That set the stage for Nos. 3-4 hitters Alvarez and Bregman to clean up the mess. Alvarez swung on the first pitch he saw and knocked it into right field, bringing Altuve around to score.
The Yankees then brought in closer Clay Holmes with the hope of keeping the game tied, but Bregman took a 2-2 middle-in sinker and blooped it in the same direction, allowing Peña to trot home as the game-winning run.
“Their pitchers have great stuff. Whenever you can get a runner on base, it’s a plus,” Peña said. “We always try to pass the baton to the next guy. Yordan has been coming through for us all year; he came through in that situation. And then Bregman, that was the biggest at-bat of the game.”
It was also the third time the Astros had to come back in Sunday’s dramatic finale, after the Yankees took an early lead in the opening frame -- their first against Houston in 11 meetings throughout the regular season and postseason -- and then Harrison Bader launched a go-ahead solo homer in the sixth.
But the Astros weren’t worried. They kept the pressure on the Yankees and then pounced once they finally cracked. It’s a formula that has worked all year, and especially during their undefeated postseason run.
“The thing about this team is that they don’t panic. They never panic,” Baker said. “They try to find a way.”
What the Astros found was their own way to the World Series.