HOUSTON -- A legendary pitching performance by Justin Verlander, a memorable swing from Carlos Correa and a mad-dash sprint from Jose Altuve have the Astros two wins away from reaching the Fall Classic.Correa hit a game-winning double into the right-center-field gap off Albertin Chapman to score Altuve from first base
HOUSTON -- A legendary pitching performance by Justin Verlander, a memorable swing from Carlos Correa and a mad-dash sprint from Jose Altuve have the Astros two wins away from reaching the Fall Classic.
Correa hit a game-winning double into the right-center-field gap off Albertin Chapman to score Altuve from first base and send the Astros to a 2-1 walk-off win over the Yankees in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World on Saturday at Minute Maid Park.
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"When a guy like Verlander goes out there and throws nine innings and 124 pitches, you want to win that game for him," Correa said. "We took a lot of pride in that. We talked about it in the ninth inning when there was one out. I looked at Altuve and said, 'Hey, we've got to make this happen for him.' And we did. It was huge."
With Altuve at first base after a one-out single in the ninth, Correa lashed a 99.3-mph Chapman fastball into right-center field, where it was tracked down by right fielder Aaron Judge. Shortstop Didi Gregorius cut the ball off behind second base and fired to the plate, where catcher Gary Sanchez could not handle the short hop as Altuve slid home safely.
Altuve went from first to home in 10.27 seconds, his fastest such time this season and fastest since 2015. It was a feat all the more impressive given that his secondary lead was a modest 10.7 feet. As proof of how fast Altuve was moving, consider this: His sprint speed on the play was 29.5 feet per second, well ahead of his 2017 "max effort" average of 28.0 feet per second and the MLB average of 27 feet per second.
It was certainly an aggressive send by third-base coach Gary Pettis, but with a strikeout pitcher such as Chapman on the mound, it was understandable. According to Statcast™, Altuve was 56 feet from home plate when Gregorius received the relay throw, and 25 feet away when it hit Sanchez's glove. Had Altuve stayed at third, Houston's win expectancy would have stood at 83.8 percent, and had he been out, it would have dropped to 60.8.
"Bottom line is, if I catch that ball, he's going to be out," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "I dropped the ball. It was a small bounce, but that's a play that I know I can make."
• Sanchez: 'I dropped the ball'
Verlander delivered one of the best pitching performances in Astros postseason history, allowing one run while striking out 13 batters in nine innings, including striking out the side in the eighth. He threw 124 pitches -- 93 strikes -- and extended his playoff record of double-digit strikeout games to seven.
"This is such a big moment for our team, but he put us on his back today with his pitching," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said.
Verlander is the first Astros pitcher to complete nine innings in a postseason start since Nolan Ryan in Game 5 of the 1986 National League Championship Series. His 13 strikeouts mark the 20th time a pitcher has fanned at least 13 in one playoff game.
"It's definitely up there, if not at the top," Verlander said when asked where Saturday's performance ranked among his best games. "With everything that is going on -- not just on the personal level, but for the team, being in the Championship Series and being a 1-1 game the whole way -- and being able to go nine ... and, man, just everything. It's definitely one of the most satisfying starts I've had in my career."
Luis Severino limited the Astros to a Correa homer, but he was lifted after four innings when the Yankees were concerned by what they believed was the right-hander attempting to loosen his pitching shoulder. Severino insisted that he felt no discomfort, and he lobbied to remain in the game.
"I didn't agree with that," Severino said. "I wanted to go over there and pitch. I was feeling good. Even though I didn't strike out anybody, I was feeling good. I was getting outs."
Verlander struck out the first two batters he faced in the fifth before back-to-back doubles by Aaron Hicks and Todd Frazier tied the game. Frazier's ball got wedged on the fly between the chain-link fence and the padding in front of the visiting bullpen, and he was awarded a ground-rule double.
"2-1 again," Frazier said of the second straight game with that score. "We've got to hit, bottom line. One run is not going to do it. The pitching has been great on both sides, but we know what we're capable of."
• Down 0-2, Yanks seek 'different story' in NY
Houston leads the best-of-seven series, 2-0, heading into Monday night's Game 3 at Yankee Stadium. Teams with a 2-0 lead in best-of-seven LCS (since 1985) have won the series 25 of 28 times, though all three of those comebacks were accomplished by teams that lost Games 1 and 2 on the road, like these Yankees. The last team to lose the first two games on the road to come back and win a seven-game series (LCS or World Series) was the 2004 Red Sox, who famously came back from a 3-0 deficit against the Yanks.
"They're going to be loud," Astros catcher Brian McCann, a former Yankee, said of the fans in the Bronx. "We took care of business at home, and now we need to go on the road and continue to play good baseball. The Yankees are a team that has been here before, so we need to continue to play good baseball and show up and expect to win."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Welcome to Woo-ston: Houston right fielder Josh Reddick took a potential extra-base hit away from Chase Headley in the third inning, leaping against the wall to reel in the designated hitter's liner. It appeared that Headley's ball would have struck the top of the fence and remained in play had Reddick not reached it. The Yanks are still seeking their first hit by a DH this postseason.
"We're playing him in the gap, as well as [Brett] Gardner," Reddick said. "We were covering the gap right there, so it made it a lot easier for me to get my route to catch the ball at the wall." More >
Carlos crushes: Correa put the Astros on the board in the fourth inning with his third homer of the postseason, lining a 99-mph Severino fastball over the wall in right field. The ball hit off the glove off a young Astros fan at the top of the wall, prompting crew chief Gary Cederstrom to initiate a replay review. The call was confirmed, meaning the fan touched the ball after it had cleared the yellow line.
"It happened so fast," Judge said. "I just didn't get back there in time to get a good feel for the wall and make a good play on it." More >
Double your fun: Frazier raced around the bases in the fifth inning, not taking any chances after his deep drive to left-center field off Verlander got stuck between the chain-link fence and the padding in front of the visiting bullpen. The play chased home Hicks, but Frazier was sent back to second base. Verlander recovered to get Headley to line out, ending the inning. More >
"The one time I didn't pop up, I had a surgery and I was out for eight months, so every single time I slide, I pop up, because I don't want to have another surgery on my ankle." -- Correa, on his pop-up slide at second base in front of Gregorius on the final play of the game. At Class A Lancaster in 2014, Correa fractured his fibula just above his right ankle sliding into third base.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Dallas Keuchel (10 strikeouts in Game 1) and Verlander combined for 23 strikeouts in the first two ALCS games, setting the record for back-to-back strikeout performances by starting pitchers in Houston's playoff history -- four more than the combined total of Mike Scott and Ryan in Games 1 and 2 of the 1986 NLCS.
The Astros successfully challenged a call at third base in the top of the third inning, as Gardner ripped a two-out drive down the right-field line and raced to third base on what was initially ruled a triple. After review, it was determined that third baseman Alex Bregman got the tag down before Gardner reached the base, and the call on the field was overturned.
Yankees: Left-hander Carsten Sabathia has been selected to make the start in Monday's Game 3, as the ALCS shifts to Yankee Stadium. Sabathia previously started in the decisive Game 5 of the AL Division Series presented by Doosan in Cleveland, striking out nine over 4 1/3 innings. The veteran is 7-2 with a 3.52 ERA in 16 postseason appearances (15 starts).
Astros: Right-hander Charlie Morton will make the start for Houston in Monday's Game 3 at Yankee Stadium. Morton started Game 4 of the ALDS in Boston, allowing two runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings. His only other postseason start came in Game 4 of the 2013 NLDS with the Pirates.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.