Astros 1 win away from 4th straight ALCS

Valdez fires seven stingy innings; Springer launches two homers

October 7th, 2020

Maybe it was ill-advised to doubt the Astros at any point coming into the playoffs. Even after they limped into the postseason with a punchless offense and an untested pitching staff in which Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole were nowhere to be found, Houston clearly isn't ready to take Octobers off.

Lefty held the A's to two runs in seven innings in his first career playoff start and -- who else? -- clubbed a pair of home runs to send the Astros to a 5-2 win and a 2-0 series lead over the A's in the best-of-five American League Division Series on Tuesday afternoon at Dodger Stadium.

The Astros, winners of seven consecutive road playoff games, are one win away from advancing to the AL Championship Series for the fourth consecutive season. Game 3 is set for Wednesday afternoon.

"You've got to put them away when you've got a chance," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "You let them off the mat, these guys know how to win. We'd like to win tomorrow and not have any drama in Games 4 and 5. We know these guys have been here before and we know it's not complete and not done until the final out, and hopefully it's in our favor tomorrow."

In the history of best-of-five postseason series, teams taking a 2-0 lead have gone on to win the series 73 of 83 times (88 percent). The most recent team to rally from a 2-0 deficit was the Yankees against the Indians in 2017. Of the 73 teams to advance after winning the first two games, 49 finished off a sweep in Game 3.

The Astros are up 2-0 in the ALDS for the fourth year in a row and won each series, including a sweep of Cleveland in 2018.

"We have to go out there tomorrow and keep doing what we've been doing the last two games -- put some runs on the board and try to limit the damage," Astros catcher said. "They have guys that can take you deep from one to nine. As long as they keep hitting solo homers, it isn't going to hurt us."

Springer, who had four hits in Game 1, added to his postseason legend with a two-run homer in the third inning and a solo shot in the fifth. Springer's 17 career playoff homers are the most in club history and tie Nelson Cruz, Jim Thome and David Ortiz for seventh all-time in postseason history.

"I'm just trying to help the team win," said Springer, who's 20-for-45 with seven homers in 11 career games at Dodger Stadium. "It's the playoffs. This is supposed to be fun. You've got to enjoy it. You don't know if you're ever going to get back here. The times that you are, you might as well try to have fun."

It's easy to have fun when you're swinging it like the Astros are these days. They have hit three or more homers in two consecutive playoff games for only the second time in franchise history. They previously did it in Game 5 of the 2004 National League Division Series and Game 1 of that year's NL Championship Series.

Valdez, who threw five innings in relief during Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series against the Twins, gave up solo homers to Khris Davis in the second and Chad Pinder in the fourth before retiring the final 10 batters he faced, including seven on ground balls. By pitching deep, he allowed the Astros to only use two relievers, keeping their bullpen in good shape for Game 3.

"His ball was moving all over the place," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He had a really good breaking ball. He could throw it for strikes or chase. Early on, our at-bats were a little better. Typically, good starters get better as the game goes along. You could see he got more confidence as it went along and ended up giving them seven innings. I didn't think at the beginning that he'd be able to do that, but he did. Last three times out, he's pitched pretty good and pitching with a lot of confidence."

Valdez became the sixth Astros pitcher to throw at least five innings and allow two or fewer runs in each of his first two playoff appearances, joining a list that includes former Cy Young winners Dallas Keuchel (2015) and Mike Scott (1986). With Maldonado's assist, Valdez made some early adjustments to keep the A's from trying to beat him to the opposite field.

"We saw the hitters were trying to go the opposite way a lot early in the game, so we made that adjustment to try to force them to hit it where we wanted to and get a lot of rollovers by coming inside on the batters," Valdez said. "We were able to make that adjustment and were able to win the game."

The Astros closed it out with Enoli Paredes and Ryan Pressly putting up scoreless outings for the second game in a row. In fact, Houston's bullpen hasn't allowed a run in 16 2/3 innings in the playoffs, and Oakland has just one hit after the fifth inning in each of the first two games.

Slowly but surely, the Astros are beating the A's at their own game by working at-bats, getting clutch hits and showcasing airtight relief pitching. Now they'll try to finish them off Wednesday.

"That's an outstanding team over there," Springer said. "We understand what the A's can do both offensively and on the mound, so it's just about going pitch by pitch and we'll see what happens."