Astros rip 4 HRs in Game 3 win, on doorstep of 7th straight ALCS

October 11th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS – If any team knows anything about pulling out big wins on the road in October, it’s the Astros, whose path to four American League pennants in the previous six seasons is filled with clutch road victories. They added another one to the list Tuesday afternoon at Target Field and are on the verge of winning yet another postseason series.

José Abreu hit two home runs, including a three-run shot off starting pitcher Sonny Gray in a four-run first inning, and Cristian Javier walked the tightrope between triumph and disaster before escaping a bases-loaded jam in the fifth to deliver a scoreless outing in the Astros’ 9-1 win over the Twins in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.

“I think us as the Houston Astros organization, we understand how difficult it is to win and play this game, and independently, the crowd was quiet a little bit after that,” Abreu said. “But we just came out and tried to play our best game and tried to get the win today. Thankfully, we got the win.”

The defending World Series champion Astros lead the best-of-five series, 2-1, and can punch a ticket to their seventh consecutive AL Championship Series with a win in Game 4 of the ALDS on Wednesday. They’ll give the ball to José Urquidy, who has three World Series wins under his belt.

“I'm anxious to finish the series tomorrow and enjoy it with the guys,” Urquidy said.

In all best-of-five postseason series, teams leading 2-1 after Game 3 have gone on to win the series 69 of 96 times (72 percent). In the Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, teams ahead 2-1 and playing Game 4 on the road have advanced 21 of 32 times (66 percent), with 17 of those 21 winners closing out the series in Game 4.

What makes the Astros so tough in October is their extensive postseason experience -- nothing bothers them, no moment takes them by surprise. They’re built for the postseason, whether it’s Abreu, who came to Houston this year to win a championship, or Alex Bregman, who has appeared in 89 career postseason games.

“That's the kind of club we have,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “It's a very confident club, not a cocky club. We don't showboat too much. We just play. The guys have a knack of picking each other up. From day to day, it could be a number of heroes, like today, or somebody [else] carries us on that particular day.”

Javier recorded his third consecutive postseason outing of at least five innings with one hit or fewer allowed, something no one else has ever done. He pitched around five walks and struck out nine batters. The only hit he allowed was a first-inning double by Max Kepler.

Still, there were a few tense moments in the fifth.

Javier walked the bases loaded with one out before coming back to strike out Kepler and Royce Lewis for the two biggest outs of the Astros' season to date. Javier got 19 swings and misses among his 87 pitches, including 13 on his slider -- the most of his career. He extended his postseason scoreless streak to 16 1/3 innings.

"The only way you can rattle him is if you punch him,” catcher Martín Maldonado said. “I spend time with him off the field, and that's him. Same thing you guys see on the mound is what I see. Strike out somebody, he doesn't get amped. A guy hits a homer, he doesn't get amped. Even when he's not playing, not pitching, somebody hits a homer, and he's like [makes a blank face]. That's why he's called ‘El Reptil.’"

Meanwhile, the Astros’ offense, which has performed much better on the road this year than at home, flexed some early road muscle and jumped on Gray in the first inning. Kyle Tucker’s RBI single put Houston ahead, and Abreu hit a Statcast-projected 442-foot home run to left field to make it 4-0.

Bregman and Yordan Alvarez joined the fun with a solo homer apiece. Bregman’s blast, a leadoff shot in the fifth, was the 16th postseason homer of his career, passing Babe Ruth on the all-time playoff home runs list. No third baseman has hit more playoff homers in AL/NL history than Bregman.

“The first two at-bats, I didn’t feel so good, but after that, [I] just made a few adjustments to the approach, to the mechanics and felt better after that,” Bregman said.

Alvarez, who already had two doubles in the game, went deep in the ninth for his fourth home run of the series. He's behind only Juan Gonzalez (five homers in the 1996 ALDS) and Ken Griffey Jr. (five, 1995 ALDS) for the most home runs in a best-of-five postseason series.

“He thrives on the big moment, and they did pitch him well,” Baker said. “But if you can hit, you can hit. There aren't a whole bunch of hitters around, but he's one of the top hitters in baseball, and he has a tremendous amount of concentration. He has a very short stroke to be such a big man. I mean, most big men have longer swings. He's very quiet and confident.”

Quiet and confident. Just like the Astros.