HOUSTON -- The deafening roars began on the first pitch thrown by Charlie Morton in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, and they didn't stop. Solo homers by Evan Gattis in the fourth inning and Jose Altuve in the fifth rocked Minute Maid Park, and a two-run double
HOUSTON -- The deafening roars began on the first pitch thrown by Charlie Morton in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, and they didn't stop. Solo homers by Evan Gattis in the fourth inning and Jose Altuve in the fifth rocked Minute Maid Park, and a two-run double by Brian McCann later in the fifth sent the ballpark into a frenzy.
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The party was just getting started.
Only four years after losing a club-record 111 games -- in their first year in the AL in 2013 -- the Astros completed a remarkable run to the World Series by beating the Yankees, 4-0, on Saturday night to win the ALCS presented by Camping World and send Houston to its second Fall Classic.
"It's something special, man," shortstop Carlos Correa said. "It's like, 'We're going to the World Series.' It's something you think of and dream of as a little kid, and now it's real."
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"We've earned it," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I think our team has been singularly focused from the very beginning. In Spring Training, we felt we had this caliber team, and at that point, we stopped talking about it. … There's two teams left standing, and I don't care what cities they're from -- one of them is from Houston."
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After disposing of the Red Sox in the AL Division Series presented by Doosan and the Yankees in the ALCS, the Astros will meet another iconic franchise in the World Series presented by YouTube TV -- the National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers, who won the NLCS presented by Camping World after posting the best record in baseball this year. Game 1 is Tuesday night in Los Angeles. This will mark the first time since 1970 (Reds-Orioles) that 100-win teams will meet in the World Series.
"[The Dodgers are] a good team," Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. "I think if you looked up about halfway through the season, both of us were leading the AL and the NL, and ... a lot of people were saying, 'Hey, Astros-Dodgers.' I think a lot of us have been keeping a close eye on what they're doing. We just need to go in and play our game."
For just the fifth time, the home team won all seven games in the series, with the Yankees scoring just three runs in four games at Minute Maid Park after outscoring the Astros by 14 runs (19-5) in the middle three games of the series in New York. The Yanks fell a game shy of their 41st World Series appearance and were eliminated by Houston for the second time in three years.
"This group is just unbelievable," said Yankees starting pitcher Carsten Sabathia, who worked 3 1/3 innings and took the loss. "I have 25 brothers in here, and we played that way all year. We've got nothing to hang our heads about. This is tough, it hurts, but we'll be better for it."
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Morton threw five scoreless innings for the Astros, allowing a pair of hits and striking out five batters, before turning the ball over to fellow starter Lance McCullers, who finished off the shutout with four one-hit innings. He retired 12 of the 14 batters he faced with a steady diet of curveballs.
"I talked to [Dallas Keuchel] yesterday, and he said, 'Hey, you may not be starting, but you may finish it,'" McCullers said. "And I said, 'Man, if I have the ball with any opportunity to finish the game, I'm emptying the gas tank every pitch, and I'm just going to keep going and going until they tell me otherwise.'
"I did not want to come out of that game. I cannot say enough about this team. This team is unreal. Everyone wrote us off, man. Win the first two, lose three at Yankee Stadium, and we're resilient. We knew we're coming home. We had our dude on the mound, [Justin Verlander], our guy for the sixth game. Charlie Morton did an unbelievable job. This team is, start to finish, unreal."
McCullers got Greg Bird to fly out to center fielder George Springer for the final out, raising his hands in the air before turning to hug McCann.
"That's awesome," said Springer. "To catch that ball and to present that ball to A.J. meant a lot to me."
Gattis opened the scoring by leading off the fourth with a homer to left field off Sabathia. Later in the inning, Sabathia was pulled with runners at first and third base and one out, and reliever Tommy Kahnle needed one pitch to get Springer to hit into a 6-4-3 double play.
Bird led off the fifth with a double for the Yankees and advanced to third on a wild pitch as Aaron Hicks walked. But Astros third baseman Bregman threw him out at the plate with an aggressive play on a grounder off the bat of Todd Frazier, with McCann applying a difficult tag on Bird.
Bregman said in a similar situation late in the regular season, he threw to second base to start a double play, and a run scored. After talking with Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora, he knew he had to throw home if the game was close.
"I think it was a big momentum swing," Bregman said. "It gave Charlie some confidence and he went out and dominated, and Lance came in and dominated."
"It's tough in that we were one game away from the World Series," Bird said. "It just sucks to lose, plain and simple. That's basically it. We were close. We did a lot of great things this year. There are lot of things we can reflect on and say we did well, but we can get better."
With one out in the fifth, Altuve hit his fifth homer of the playoffs into right field, sending it over the head of Aaron Judge, who robbed Yuli Gurriel of a possible homer with a catch at the wall in the second. Correa and Gurriel followed Altuve's homer with singles, and McCann ripped a two-run double into the right-field corner one out later for a 4-0 Houston lead.
"We've been doing this all year long," said McCann. "They pitched us as good as you could possibly pitch us. They held us down for as long as they could. But when you've got some of the best players in the game, and you've got a bunch of them on one team, it's incredible to come to work every day. And the talent I get to watch from behind the plate, I'm speechless because of what these guys can do on a baseball field. And they're so young and talented. I'm honored to be a part of this team."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Motion denied: Judge used every bit of his 6-foot-7 frame to steal an extra-base hit -- and possibly more -- from Gurriel in the second inning, slamming against the wall in right field for a fantastic catch. Sabathia raised his arms from behind the mound and the Yanks waved their caps following the play, which loomed large later in the inning as Houston made Sabathia work in a 20-pitch frame before keeping Josh Reddick hitless in the ALCS for the time being with a flyout to Judge in right field.
"He's been swinging the bat well these whole playoffs," Judge said. "For me, he's a guy who has good opposite-field power. Right off the bat, I was trying to go out there and make a play for CC. He's pitching his butt off. I just tried to jump up there and make a play."
This Bird doesn't fly: Morton had to work out of trouble in the fifth inning, as Bird started the inning with a double to right field and issued a one-out walk to Hicks, with a wild pitch permitting Bird to advance to third base. Morton got Frazier to chop a ball to Bregman at third base, who fired a strike home to catcher McCann in time for the fielder's-choice out. Bird's sprint speed was his fastest of the year at 27.2 feet per second, approximately league average per Statcast™, but not quick enough to beat Bregman's throw and McCann's tag.
"I have no idea how it stayed in my glove or how I caught it or how he put it right on the money," said McCann. "It was just perfect all the way around. It stayed in, Bregs put it right on the money, and I was able to hang on."
Mac attacks, again: After hurting his former team with a run-scoring ground-rule double in Game 6, McCann struck again to break Game 7 open for Houston with a two-run double in the fifth inning off Kahnle. Altuve's fifth homer of the postseason opened the scoring in the frame. The Yankees traded McCann to the Astros in November for a pair of pitching prospects.
"Brian McCann, for me, is the MVP of our Astros season, because he grinds every day, he loves this game and loves his teammates and brings out the best of every single thing we throw to him," McCullers said.
Altuve's sparkling defensive play to rob Chase Headley of a hit in the third inning merited a challenge from the Yanks' bench. The call on the field was confirmed by review, with Headley remaining out.
Astros: Houston will play the Dodgers in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Keuchel will get the ball for the Astros against Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.