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Astros' bullpen shows it has what it takes, too

Smith, Harris, Osuna close out G3 for group overshadowed by starters
@JesseSanchezMLB
October 17, 2019

NEW YORK -- Six outs. That’s all the Astros needed from their bullpen on Tuesday in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series to secure a victory and a 2-1 series advantage against the Yankees.

NEW YORK -- Six outs.

That’s all the Astros needed from their bullpen on Tuesday in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series to secure a victory and a 2-1 series advantage against the Yankees.

Six outs wouldn’t change the opinion about the group being perceived as the club’s Achilles’ heel, but it would be a good start.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 12 NYY 7, HOU 0 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 13 HOU 3, NYY 2 (11) Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 15 HOU 4, NYY 1 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 17 HOU 8, NYY 3 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 18 NYY 4, HOU 1 Watch
Gm 6 Oct. 19 HOU 6, NYY 4 Watch

“Offense and bullpens, that’s what wins in the playoffs,” closer Roberto Osuna said. “And we have a good one."

Starter Gerrit Cole did his part in Game 3, becoming the first pitcher in franchise history with three consecutive postseason outings of seven-plus innings and one or no runs allowed. But it was up to Houston's relievers to shut the door, and that’s exactly what they did in the 4-1 victory at Yankee Stadium.

Astros relievers Joe Smith, Will Harris and Osuna allowed only one hit -- a home run by Gleyber Torres off Smith in the eighth -- in two innings to secure the win. The trio of pitchers faced only seven hitters and needed only 21 pitches.

It was a solid outing for a group that’s understandably overshadowed by the team’s starting pitching and could use some validation. The relievers will be counted on to perform well during the remainder of the series, especially if one of the remaining games is a bullpen game.

“I think we have pitched well, and hopefully we can continue to pitch well and stay healthy,” Osuna said. “A lot of people did not give us a lot of credit coming into the series, but this is what we do. We are proving people wrong. This is what we did all year long and what we are doing in these games.”

So far, Astros relievers have allowed five runs on eight hits in 9 1/3 innings in three ALCS games. The group has allowed 12 runs (11 earned) on 27 hits in 22 1/3 innings during the playoffs. The bullpen has also struck out 23 batters and walked nine this postseason.

“We are pitching the way we are capable of, and everybody contributes in the postseason,” Smith said. “I know people are writing about other bullpens in the postseason, opposed to ours, but we got some guys down there that can throw the ball.”

Smith, who has seemed to emerge as a reliable option for manager AJ Hinch out of the bullpen, replaced Cole to start the eighth inning, and what followed was one of the closest plays of the game. Yanks designated hitter Edwin Encarnación hit a soft ground ball to third baseman Alex Bregman and was initially ruled safe at first on the play. The call was overturned after a replay review for the first out.

Smith’s next pitch was an 89.3 mph fastball to Torres for a ball. Torres smashed the next pitch, an 88.1 mph sinker, over the wall in right field for his second home run of the ALCS to cut Houston’s lead to 4-1.

“It was a bad pitch on 1-0,” Smith said. “He did what he was supposed to do with it.”

Harris replaced Smith and retired Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius on a popout to Bregman at third on one pitch. He needed only two pitches -- a called strike on a cutter and a curveball -- to sit down Yanks catcher Gary Sánchez on a ground ball to shortstop Carlos Correa.

“Our bullpen has been huge for us all [postseason],” Astros catcher Martín Maldonado said. “We just have to go out there and do it again.”

Osuna retired the side in order on eight pitches in the ninth. He has not allowed a run in 2 2/3 innings in the ALCS. Outside of Torres' home run, it’s exactly how the Astros drew it up.

It’s exactly what they want moving forward.

“Both bullpens are under the microscope right now, especially nowadays in this series, and they're going to be close games and big swings,” Hinch said. “I know Joe Smith had a really good night the other night, gets a big out on Encarnación and then Torres hits a homer. I think Will Harris has come in and been great.”

Jesse Sanchez, who has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.