Astros stumble into 2-1 ALCS hole

Urquidy knocked out in 6-run second as bullpen called early again

October 19th, 2021

BOSTON -- Needing a competitive start from right-hander to help ease the burden of a bullpen that carried too much of the load in the first two games of the American League Championship Series, the Astros instead were left to sift through a disaster.

Urquidy couldn’t escape the second inning, giving up a grand slam to Kyle Schwarber -- the third by Boston in two games -- that capped a six-run punch in the face as the Red Sox rolled to a second consecutive blowout win, 12-3, over the Astros on Monday in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

“I mean, they count as one [loss],” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We come back and win [Tuesday], the series is even. I mean, you don't like it. I'm not very happy about it, but you got to flush this one because you can't bring this one or the last one back until tomorrow. And so, like I said, you don't like it tonight, but the sun is going to come up in the morning.”

In postseason series with the current 2-3-2 format, teams that have won Game 3 at home to take a 2-1 series lead have gone on to win the series 27 of 44 times (61 percent). This excludes 2020, when the LCS and World Series were at neutral sites.

Houston starters have lasted just 5 1/3 innings, posting a 20.25 ERA in three ALCS games, which should make the Astros feel fortunate they’re only down 2-1. The bullpen has covered 20 2/3 innings (4.79 ERA) in the ALCS, and it will be stretched again in Game 4 with Zack Greinke on the mound. The veteran right-hander last pitched one inning in relief on Oct. 10, but he hasn’t started a game in a month, throwing 68 pitches in four innings on Sept. 19.

“You're asking everybody to do probably a lot more than you would ever ask them to do, multiple innings, back-to-back days,” Baker said. “You know, we need some zeros out there for an extended period of time, and hopefully we'll get that tomorrow.”

The only offense the Astros mustered in six innings against Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez, who had an 8.53 ERA in six previous career starts against Houston, was a three-run homer by Kyle Tucker in the fourth. Meanwhile, the Red Sox clobbered four home runs, with Christian Arroyo hitting a two-run blast in the third, J.D. Martinez adding a two-run shot in the sixth and Rafael Devers crushing a solo blast in the eighth.

“We just have to put up more runs,” Tucker said. “They’re swinging the bat really well. We just have to continue to battle through and make good quality pitches and get through a couple innings and we’ll be good.”

When the Astros ruled ace Lance McCullers Jr. out of the ALCS with a strained forearm before the series started, their starting pitching became an issue. The injury left starters Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia and Urquidy to battle the Red Sox, and that could have worked had Houston kept swinging the bats well.

But when Valdez lasted 2 2/3 innings in his Game 1 start and Garcia recorded only three outs in Game 2 before leaving with a right knee strain, Houston was in trouble. With the bullpen carrying a huge load, the Astros needed Urquidy to give them some length in Game 3, but he instead recorded five outs. Houston used five relievers for the final 6 1/3 innings.

“It's kind of like Groundhog Day, a recurring nightmare where you hope to get some innings out of these guys,” Baker said. “You hope they can get out of the inning and then take him as far as you can take him.”

Urquidy enjoyed a quick first inning before disaster struck in the second. Seven consecutive Red Sox hitters reached with one out, including nine-hole hitter Arroyo on a fielding error by second baseman Jose Altuve with the bases loaded and the score 1-0. Instead of getting an inning-ending double play, the Astros paid for the miscue when Schwarber crushed a grand slam into the right-field bleachers for a 6-0 Boston lead, setting the stage for a blowout win.

“We’ve just got to forget about this game, flush it out and come back tomorrow and do a better job,” shortstop Carlos Correa said. “As a group, we’ve got to pitch better, we’ve got to play better defense, we’ve got to hit more. You know, easier said than done, but tomorrow we’ve got to go out there and focus and try to even the series.”