Urquidy, Javier key as Astros regain footing

Bullpen gets a rare October breather before Series shifts to Atlanta

October 29th, 2021

HOUSTON -- The Astros would probably prefer not repeating some of the stumbles they encountered on their path to get to the World Series, but if there’s one trend they wouldn’t mind carrying over, it would have to be how well their starting pitchers responded after a not-so-great outing.

flushed a forgettable performance in the American League Championship Series more than a week ago and turned in five strong innings on Wednesday in the Astros’ 7-2 win over the Braves in Game 2 of the World Series.

An equally strong performance from , who followed Urquidy with 1 1/3 scoreless frames, helped the Astros to even the best-of-seven Series at one win apiece, and just as importantly, they took pressure off a stressed bullpen. That allows for a reset that could pair favorably with Thursday’s off-day.

Urquidy, who didn’t make it to the third inning in Game 3 of the ALCS in Boston, struck out four in the first two innings, and, though the Braves were making hard contact early, he settled in and regained his pinpoint control to retire seven consecutive hitters.

“I was trying to be in the zone,” Urquidy said. “I was trying to compete. I was trying to get more confidence in my stuff, in my offspeed [pitches] and my fastball. It doesn't matter if I get walks or homers. It doesn't matter. I have to do my job. But I did make a couple of adjustments there, especially throwing strikes.”

Urquidy now has two World Series wins, dating back to a strong showing in the 2019 Fall Classic vs. the Nationals. He has a cumulative World Series ERA of 1.80, becoming the first pitcher in history to have a sub-2.00 ERA with 10 or more strikeouts and no walks over his first two career World Series starts.

He is also the first Mexican pitcher to earn multiple World Series wins.

“I didn't know that,” Urquidy said. “Somebody told me that I was the first Mexican to get two wins in [the] World Series. I'm very proud of that. It's something that I had worked for for a long time when I was playing in Mexico. I'm living the dream.”

Manager Dusty Baker noted Urquidy started out in this game “fast -- I mean real fast.” Baker said he was keeping a close eye on the right-hander, given the long layoff between starts.

The Braves came out swinging, with varied results. Urquidy fanned four of the first six batters he faced, but on the other hand he gave up some hard-hit balls, too. Three of the first four hits he allowed over his first two innings exceeded exit velocities of 100 mph, per Statcast. That included Travis d’Arnaud’s solo homer in the second inning that clocked in at 104.1 off the bat and traveled 375 feet to left.

Dansby Swanson followed with a base hit that registered 104.9 mph, but Eddie Rosario followed with a groundout to end the inning. The Braves wouldn’t produce another baserunner until the fifth.

“We knew he was going to be a strike-thrower,” D’Arnaud said of Urquidy. “And he went out there and pitched a great game.”

Urquidy wasn’t alone. Javier has plenty of experience as a starting pitcher, and perhaps that’s his future with this club. But for now, he’s handling the title of “piggybacker” with the exact precision the Astros need, especially considering how short the outings have been from some of their starters this month.

In a key Game 2 win, the blueprint worked. Javier contributed 1 1/3 scoreless frames, bringing his postseason total to nine, with 15 strikeouts.

“Sometimes bridge guys come in and throw gasoline on a situation, but he's come in and put the fire out most of the time and given us a chance to win,” Baker said. “He's been very, very valuable.”

The win put the Astros in a favorable position heading into the Atlanta portion of the World Series. In postseason series with the current 2-3-2 format, teams splitting the first two games at home have still gone on to win the series 47 of 84 times (56%).

In all best-of-seven series tied 1-1, the winner of the third game has triumphed in the series 66 of 96 times (69%).

“Our mentality is win, and win for sure,” Urquidy said. “We know that we are facing a hard team over there, but we have to do a good job there. We are very focused on winning and finishing the Series over there.”