Abreu slugs pair of 440-foot HRs for a postseason first

October 11th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- Target Field was abuzz from the moment the gates opened on Tuesday afternoon, and the excitement built and built as first pitch neared. The home crowd had a seemingly endless supply of energy, going wild when franchise icon Johan Santana threw out the first pitch -- with an assist from Pablo López -- and booing with vigor when the Astros' lineup was announced.

The hostile atmosphere didn't seem to bother the Astros, who have done nothing but thrive on the road this season. And as Houston built the foundation for a first-inning rally, José Abreu delivered a big hit that momentarily dampened the noise to a dull murmur.

His first of two homers in the game, Abreu's three-run blast off Twins right-hander Sonny Gray capped a four-run first inning as the Astros won Game 3 of the American League Division Series, 9-1, on Tuesday to pull within one win of advancing to the ALCS for the seventh consecutive season.

That homer was launched a Statcast-projected 442 feet. His second dinger -- a two-run shot off Bailey Ober in the ninth inning -- traveled 440 feet, earning Abreu the distinction of becoming the first player to hit two postseason homers of that distance or farther in the same game since Statcast began tracking home run distances in 2015.

"I think we all went out there trying to have really good swings," Abreu said in Spanish through interpreter Jenloy Herrera. "We were able to do that. Obviously, part of the game is whoever plays the best is going to win, and thankfully it was us.”

Houston started and ended strong in Game 3, plating four in the first and three in the ninth, with Abreu leading the way in both big innings. He recorded five RBIs in all, his second-highest single-game total as an Astro.

The Astros kicked off their big first inning by stringing together base hits against Gray, with Jose Altuve reaching out of the leadoff spot for the third straight game. Yordan Alvarez reached on a two-base error, then Kyle Tucker drove in Altuve on an RBI single.

Then came Abreu’s homer, which hung a crooked number on the Twins. Prior to Tuesday, the last time Gray allowed a home run on a sweeper was July 14, 2022, to Luis Robert Jr. The next batter he faced that day? Abreu, then in his final season with the White Sox.

"He’s been one of the best hitters in baseball for the last, I don't know how many years," Alex Bregman said of Abreu. "He puts good swings on baseballs, he puts the ball in play, hits the ball hard and he can hit for power to right field, to left field, to center field."

Gray had thrown 675 sweepers without allowing a homer in the interim, and he served up another one to Bregman in the fifth inning of Game 3. Gray's eight home runs allowed in 184 innings in the regular season were the fewest among all qualified big league starters.

Houston's power stroke has been key to its offense through the first three games of the ALDS, with 13 of its 17 total runs scoring via the long ball.

During the regular season, the Astros watched as Abreu worked through the longest homerless stretch of his career that ended in late May, then went deep 18 times the rest of the way as he shook off his slow start in Houston.

"His batting average wasn't really indicative," manager Dusty Baker said, "but he was driving in some big runs for us."

Now, the veteran slugger can check his first signature postseason performance with the Astros off the list.

"I think that this was one of the reasons why I signed with this organization, to be in the best position and compete," Abreu said. "And trust me, I am extremely grateful with life to be able to be in this situation and position that I am right now.

"I think in life, sometimes, it's also important to not let yourself fall down. It's really important to just keep your head up."