'We didn't panic': Astros' clutch mojo returns
WASHINGTON -- Somewhere in the sky between Houston and Washington, Astros hitters convened on the team’s charter flight Thursday afternoon and talked about approach. In losing the first two games of the World Series to the Nationals, the belief was they tried to do too much and deviated from the methods that made them one of baseball’s most dangerous offenses.
That was especially true in the clutch, where Houston went 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position combined in Games 1 and 2 and left scoring opportunities scattered all over Minute Maid Park. The belief was that it was only going to take one guy to break through with one key hit to get the line moving and the mojo back.
And wouldn’t you guess, it started with a bloop single in the second inning off the bat of outfielder Josh Reddick to score Carlos Correa and get the Astros rolling in Game 3. That was one of four hits with runners in scoring position Houston mustered in a 4-1 win over Washington at Nationals Park to cut the Nats' lead in the series to 2-1.
“I feel like this team’s been doing that the whole season,” catcher Robinson Chirinos said. “I feel like in the postseason, we’re trying too much, trying to be a hero. That’s something we talked about on the plane also last night. We’re like, ‘Let’s have a good approach, good at-bats as a team and don’t try to do too much. Just keep the line moving. Don’t swing for a fence. Just go the other way and make sure we’re seeing the ball and swinging at strikes,’ and I feel like we did that tonight.”
Michael Brantley came through in the clutch with run-scoring singles in the third and fifth innings to stake the Astros to a 3-1 lead before Chirinos homered in the sixth. Brantley became the third Houston player to have two hits, two RBIs and a stolen base in a playoff game.
The Astros struck out only five times, which is their lowest total this postseason.
“I thought our at-bats were good,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “I thought some of our outs were really good, I think, in terms of the quality of the at-bat.”
Reddick followed a Correa double in the second by going the other way with a 2-1 pitch from Washington starter Aníbal Sánchez and dropping it into left field for an RBI single. With a 62.1-mph exit velocity, it was the fourth-slowest ball hit in the game, but it might have been the most meaningful for Houston.
“I think it was a big sigh of relief for us, because we have been dealing with so many hard-hit balls [for outs in Games 1 and 2] and been frustrated by it,” Reddick said. “It was a finally-it-went-our-way moment to get us off our butt, so to speak, and get us moving forward.”
In the third, Brantley ripped an 0-2 fastball back up the middle and off the glove of Sanchez for a single, scoring José Altuve from third base. Brantley hit a 3-1 pitch to right field in the fifth for a single to score Altuve for a 3-1 lead.
“The key was that we stayed confident,” Altuve said. “We didn’t panic. The first two games we didn’t do some things, but we kept believing in us and tonight we went out there and made it happen.”
The Astros’ improved approach was evident in Chirinos, who was 2-for-24 with 12 strikeouts in the postseason before having a pair of hits in Game 3 of the World Series. He was chasing changeups down and swinging at fastballs up. Chirinos wasn’t giving himself a chance in his at-bats.
“I feel like I did tonight,” he said. “My first at-bat against Aníbal, he was trying to go up. I took it and he got behind in the count, and he threw me a fastball down and away and I was able to go the other way. I feel like I put myself in good position to have a good game at the plate tonight.”
Through three games of the Fall Classic -- and really all 14 games in the postseason -- Houston has yet to explode on offense. There’s still another level waiting to be reached. The Astros' better approach on Friday was a step in the right direction. They swung and missed only 10 times in Game 3 after 27 whiffs in Game 1 and 14 in Game 2.
“Tonight we went out there and we passed the baton to the next guy,” Altuve said. “We kept playing and got some big hits tonight -- Michael Brantley, Reddick. Obviously, Robinson with the big homer. We needed all that.”