3 keys to Houston's 12-inning marathon win

McCormick, Alvarez and Garcia lead the way in Anaheim

September 23rd, 2021

ANAHEIM -- It wasn’t until Josh James struck out Shohei Ohtani for the final out Wednesday night -- which came 4 hours and 18 minutes after first pitch -- that manager Dusty Baker and the rest of visiting dugout was able to exhale.

It was certainly a long and wild night at Angel Stadium, where the Astros ducked and dodged defeat before scoring four runs in the 12th inning for a 9-5 win that has them on the brink of another American League West title.

Jake Meyers had an RBI single and Jose Altuve added a two-run double as the Astros scored four times in the 12th to win for the seventh time in eight games. They improved to 91-61 and trimmed their magic number to clinch the AL West to three.

“We just kept fighting and fighting, and that’s what stands out to me,” Baker said. “We used almost everybody in the bullpen. … That was a team effort big-time. We were here a long time and it’s not so long after you win.”

Here’s three keys to the Astros’ fourth consecutive victory:

McCormick saves the day on defense

With Michael Brantley on the injured list with a sore right knee, delivered one of the best nights of his young career. He went 3-for-5 with a run scored and made three terrific defensive plays, including a throw from right field to cut down Ohtani at the plate to prevent the winning run and end the 10th inning.

“[Aledmys] Díaz congratulated me, said he’s played in the big leagues six years and that’s the 'best game I’ve ever seen somebody play before,'” McCormick said. “[Zack] Greinke gave me a compliment. Just seeing [Carlos] Correa having a tough day at the plate and being super excited for me making those plays, and seeing him jump and high-fiving me and stuff, it means a lot as a young player.”

McCormick made a diving catch in the gap to end the third, robbing Jack Mayfield with a runner at third base and the Astros leading 2-0. In the seventh, he made a diving stab towards the right-field line to rob Phil Gosselin of a hit and strand a pair of runners. That was the final out of the Angels’ five-run seventh that put them ahead, 5-3.

“Defense doesn’t win you games, but it would certainly lose you games,” Baker said. “Boy, that was a big one to win right there.”

The Angels loaded the bases with no outs in the 10th against Blake Taylor, who got a force out at the plate on a nice play from Correa. David Fletcher then hit a fly ball toward the line that McCormick ran down. He threw a one-hop strike to catcher Jason Castro, who applied the tag on Ohtani.

“It wasn’t that tough of a play,” McCormick said. “The first catch from Mayfield in the right-center gap, that’s one of my better plays I've made this year. I kind of lost it in the lights a little bit, too, and I was shaded over to the right-field line. The biggest play was throwing out Ohtani.”

Alvarez rockets to 100 RBIs

became the 17th Astros player to reach 100 RBIs in a season after going 3-for-4 with three RBIs, including a 456-foot homer to center field in the first that was 116.1 mph off the bat. Alvarez got his 101st RBI with an RBI double in the eighth and scored the tying run on a Yuli Gurriel single.

“That was a high rocket,” Baker said of the homer. “That’s a rocket like Willie Stargell and big Willie McCovey used to hit. You knew the ball was out from the minute it left his bat; just didn’t know far it was going to go. Then he almost hit one out to left-center, hitting the top of the wall. He’s been trying to get to that 100-RBI mark, which he got to tonight. He’s been a run-producer and been great on the team.”

Baker pulled Alvarez from the game after he ran on to the field to play defense in the eighth inning, saying he was “sore.” The skipper said he couldn't elaborate on what kind of soreness Alvarez was feeling, but it’s worth noting he had surgery on both knees 13 months ago.

Alvarez started in left field for the third game in a row and fourth time in five games, so he’s been on his feet more than he normally is as the designated hitter.

“I just couldn’t take a chance when you’re sore,” Baker said. “That’s when you’ve got a good chance of hurting something, pulling something. With Michael already on the IL, we just couldn’t take a chance and [have] him hurt something and be out for a while. He’s such a big part of our lineup and a big bat. We need to protect him.”

Garcia puts up zeroes despite control issues

Astros starter Luis Garcia threw six scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 3.23, allowing three hits and three walks with only one strikeout. He threw only 42 of his 79 pitches for strikes, but he was able to string together outs thanks to terrific defense behind him.

“I think he had more balls than strikes, but he got out of trouble,” Baker said. “We thought that was far enough for him, especially when you keep getting out of trouble.”

Garcia, who’s a candidate for AL Rookie of the Year, has blown past his career high in innings pitched (150 1/3), but his season is far from done. He’s expected to be one of the Astros’ starting pitchers when the playoffs begin in two weeks.

“I was trying to do my best like always,” he said. “I think it was good. I feel really good to be honest. I think I’m ready for the playoffs, and I’m just trying to do good work until the season is over and get ready for the playoffs.”