ARLINGTON – It’s hard to see the little things when José Abreu is hitting another tape-measure home run, Jose Altuve is spraying the ball all over Globe Life Field in his 100th career playoff game like it’s his personal playground and Hunter Brown is throwing 99 mph gas while tossing three scoreless innings out of the bullpen.
Those are the things that will get talked about most when people recall Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, but the little stuff loomed large on Thursday night, too. Sure, the Astros flexed their muscles, while also owning the pivotal moments in a 10-3 win over the Rangers that tied the ALCS at two games apiece.
“That’s the team that we have,” catcher Martín Maldonado said. “We’ve been in this situation many times. We take it one game at a time. We always believe in what we can do as a team.”
The Astros are trying to become the 15th team to win a best-of-seven postseason series after losing the first two games. However, teams that have fallen behind 2-0 before winning Games 3 and 4 have gone on to win the series nine of 21 times (43 percent). How important will Game 5 be? In best-of-seven series tied after four games, the Game 5 winner has taken the series 46 of 65 times (71 percent).
The Astros went 8-for-16 with runners in scoring position, drew seven walks and have scored 18 runs in two games in Arlington after being held to four runs in the first two games of the series in Houston. The Astros are 8-1 at Globe Life Field this year and have averaged nine runs per game with 26 home runs. They’ve scored double-digit runs in five of their last six games in Arlington, with one big one remaining on Friday.
“We’re the Houston Astros, and we never give up,” Abreu said. “It was very important to give credit to all these guys here in this organization who never give up. It’s up to us to be able to turn this around.”
The two key events leading up to Abreu’s game-changing homer came on the pitcher’s mound and in the batter’s box.
After the Rangers had tied the game at 3-3 on a Corey Seager home run in the third, they had runners at first and second and one out. Ryne Stanek relieved starter José Urquidy and threw one pitch -- a double-play ball off the bat of Mitch Garver. Inning over.
“I don’t know what he was looking for, but I’m assuming he thought I was going to come out and be aggressive and attack with the heater,” Stanek said. “I executed a slider and got a good result.”
In the next inning, Maldonado led off with a walk off reliever Cody Bradford after falling behind in the count, 0-2. Houston proceeded to load the bases with no outs and took the lead on a Yordan Alvarez sac fly that traveled 401 feet. Abreu then clubbed a three-run home run that put Houston ahead, 7-3.
“It was important for me to have a really good swing in that at-bat, try to put the team in a better position than it already was,” Abreu said. “The pitch wasn’t in the location that I wanted it and I was able to get it.”
Abreu’s homer, off Bradford, traveled 438 feet, making him the first player since Statcast tracking began in 2015 to hit three homers in the playoffs of at least 430 feet. Chas McCormick walloped a two-run homer in the seventh off former teammate Will Smith for a 9-3 lead.
“That was the biggest hit of the day,” McCormick said of the Abreu homer. ”He’s been doing that, hitting the crap out of the ball for a while now. That's what we need if we want to win a World Series. It really helped us out because that was a tight game. For him to open it up like that, that was huge for us because we believe in our pitchers. It was big.”
Both teams will now turn to their aces -- Justin Verlander of the Astros and Jordan Montgomery of the Rangers -- in Friday afternoon’s pivotal Game 5. Regardless of the outcome, the series will shift back to Minute Maid Park for Game 6 on Sunday. Montgomery outdueled Verlander in Game 1 of the series in Houston.
“We definitely expected ourselves, even though we were down 0-2, to come here and play good baseball,” McCormick said. “We’ve been doing it all year. That’s what we did the past two nights, and I think if we carry this momentum into tomorrow, we’re in really good shape. We got a big one tomorrow. Tomorrow’s probably the biggest game -- they got their ace, we got our ace. It’s going to be a really big one.”