CHICAGO -- Second baseman Jose Altuve fielded a grounder with two outs in the ninth inning and threw to Yuli Gurriel at first base for the final out of Game 4 of the American League Division Series. Closer Ryan Pressly raised his hands in the air, Altuve glanced toward the sky and the Astros lined up to exchange high-fives.
There was no dogpile in the middle of the diamond, though the champagne did flow once the Astros were back in the clubhouse.
It was the kind of subdued celebration you’d expect from a team that’s been there, done that as many times as the Astros, who clinched their fifth consecutive trip to the AL Championship Series with a 10-1 wipeout of the White Sox on Tuesday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“Popping champagne is always a fun thing to do, and you never take it for granted,” Pressly said. “But we’re looking forward to the Red Sox.”
In the most dominant era in Astros history, they have become the third team to reach the LCS in five consecutive seasons, joining the Braves (’95-’99) and A’s (’71-’75).
“It’s amazing, brother,” said shortstop Carlos Correa, who tied Albert Pujols for the most postseason RBIs among active players. “Five years in a row never gets old. Just enjoying every second of it. It’s pretty special that we got here, and a pretty special organization. I’m very fond of every single guy in this clubhouse. We know what it takes to win, we know how to prepare to win the moment we [show] up to Spring Training. To see the fruits of the labor right there is always great.”
The Astros advanced in convincing fashion, getting two-run doubles from Correa and Alex Bregman, a three-run homer from Altuve -- three of their core four position players who have been together since 2016 -- and a lockdown performance from their bullpen.
For the second game in a row, the Astros roared to an early 5-1 lead, but their bullpen was up to the challenge after starter Lance McCullers Jr. threw four innings before leaving with tightness in his arm. Correa’s two-run double in the third put the Astros ahead, 2-1, and Bregman’s two-run double capped a three-run fourth. An RBI single by Michael Brantley in the sixth made it 6-1; Brantley added an RBI single in the eighth.
The Astros scored 31 runs over the four-game series (7.8 per game), hitting one homer in each game. They batted .378 with runners in scoring position. They were relentless on offense.
“Boy, this was a heck of a series,” manager Dusty Baker said. “It was a downer night before last [when] we got beat pretty badly, but on a daily basis, they don't take one day into the next unless it was good. You know, I love this team, and the city loves them, and that's what counts.”
As the Astros were piling on runs in the ninth inning behind a three-run homer by Altuve -- the 19th of his postseason career -- off White Sox closer Liam Hendriks, a few boos rained down from the crowd as fans hit the exits. The jeers, which rang loudly in Game 3 and early in Game 4, had died down with each run Houston scored.
“Everybody’s been talking all year,” Pressly said. “You want to poke the bear, you can. You can say what you want to say, but this lineup is as legit as it comes.”
The White Sox appeared to supply some additional motivation when reliever Ryan Tepera suggested following Houston’s Game 3 loss in Chicago that the Astros might have been stealing signs at home in Games 1 and 2. The Astros answered with 10 runs in Game 4 and then addressed the comments on the field postgame during their subdued celebration.
“He said what he said,” Correa said. “I encouraged the players, if you’re going to talk [noise] about other teams, just state facts. If you can’t state facts, you lose credibility in this team. It’s unfortunate he had to say those words. We came out hungry, and we showed up.”
Next up is a date with the Red Sox, who lost to the Astros in the ALDS in 2017 and beat them in the ALCS in 2018. The Astros are four wins away from a third World Series berth in five years and, they hope, a celebration that would be fit for the moment.
“You can’t take playing in the postseason for granted,” Bregman said. “You’ve got to love it and cherish it. To be able to go back to a fifth straight ALCS with the guys is special. We’re definitely going to soak it in with them.”