HOUSTON -- The Astros had just suffered a blowout loss to the Red Sox in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series in Boston, putting their season in peril. Boston had outplayed them every way possible for two consecutive games, crushing three grand slams and feasting on a short-handed and overworked bullpen.
It was hard to envision how the Astros would be able to turn things around, how they’d be able to beat the Red Sox three times in a four-game span to win the series. After that loss, the players held a team meeting inside a cramped clubhouse at Fenway Park and reminded each other the series wasn’t over. They vowed to turn it around.
What happened in the following three games was nothing short of remarkable, with the Astros reeling off three dominating wins in a row, including a 5-0 blanking of the Red Sox in Game 6 of the ALCS on Friday night at raucous Minute Maid Park to win the series, 4-2, and clinch their third berth in the World Series in the past five years. The Astros will host the Braves in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night.
“We talked, and we said, ‘We have to play better. This is not good enough,’” Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said. “And we showed up and we showed we can make adjustments on any given day. The pitching staff, they threw strikes, they pounded the zone, they limited the walks, and that was the key for us to win the series.”
An Astros team that lost 2019 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander for the season, saw 2020 team MVP George Springer leave in free agency, had ace Lance McCullers Jr. get injured in the Division Series, and had players booed in every ballpark in which they stepped foot, pushed it all aside to reach their fourth World Series.
“Honestly, we learned how to live with it,” Correa said of the jeers the team heard on the road all year. “It wasn’t our motivation this year. Our motivation is to show the world we’re the best team in the world, and we’re one step closer.”
Next up for the Astros is a date with either the Braves or the Dodgers from the National League. The World Series begins Tuesday -- in Houston if the Braves win the NLCS or in Los Angeles if the Dodgers win the NL pennant. The Dodgers, of course, are the defending champs and lost to the Astros in the 2017 World Series.
“It was a really hard-fought series all around,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “A lot of people just stepped up. I’m just super proud of everybody. The series could have gone either way, and I’m just proud of everyone.”
The Astros outscored the Red Sox, 23-3, in the final three games, with Boston scoring one run in the final 26 innings of the series. Houston hit .303 in those three games, including .375 with runners in scoring position, while holding Boston to 10 hits in that span.
Astros rookie starter Luis Garcia, throwing 97-mph gas, set the tone for 5 2/3 innings, not allowing a hit until his final batter, and designated hitter Yordan Alvarez went 4-for-4 and hit an ALCS-record .522 (12-for-23) en route to being named a unanimous ALCS MVP. He joins David Ortiz (2004) as the only DHs to win ALCS MVP.
“I think there’s a lot of things that I could say that’s behind that trophy, but all I can say is it just means everything,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez, Garcia and lefty Framber Valdez, who threw eight innings in Game 5, stepped up to fill the voids left by Verlander, McCullers and Springer. So did Kyle Tucker, who hit a three-run homer in the eighth. None of them were with the club in 2017.
“The young guys really picked us up,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker, who became the ninth manager in history to win a pennant in both leagues (Giants 2002). “Without those young guys to fill in around the nucleus, there’s no way we could have won it, and you can tell by the way we’re rotating center fielders, you could tell by how young Framber and Garcia pitched these last couple of days. They grew up before our eyes.”
The Astros were still nursing a 2-0 lead in the seventh when Kendall Graveman -- Houston’s key Trade Deadline acquisition -- struck out Travis Shaw and catcher Martín Maldonado threw out Alex Verdugo at second for an electrifying double play. Tucker’s homer in the eighth was the knockout punch for the Astros, who gave the ball to closer Ryan Pressly to close it out.
“I can't even really explain it, to be honest with you,” Pressly said. “As soon as I saw Mike [Brantley] camped in left, I looked at Maldy and his eyes got about as big as beach balls. He came running towards me, and I just wanted to give him the biggest hug.”