Urquidy delivers on biggest stage for Astros
Rookie the 2nd Mexican-born starting pitcher to win a WS game
WASHINGTON -- If you try to locate Jose Urquidy's name in the 2019 Astros media guide, you’re going to be flipping pages fruitlessly. He wasn’t even Jose Urquidy when he came to Spring Training this year as a largely unknown 23-year-old pitcher who was signed out of the Mexican League four years ago.
Having never pitched above Class A ball, Jose Luis Hernandez -- the name which appears in the media guide -- changed his last name to his mother’s toward the end of spring camp and was the Opening Day starter at Double-A Corpus Christi. He was at Triple-A Round Rock by mid-May and pitching in the big leagues in July.
Urquidy’s fresh name was on the rise in the Astros’ organization, and on Saturday night he introduced himself to the rest of the nation on the biggest stage imaginable. Urquidy threw five scoreless innings, allowing two hits with four strikeouts, to become the second Mexican-born starting pitcher to earn a win in the World Series in the Astros’ 8-1 victory over the Nationals in Game 4 at Nationals Park, joining the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela (1981). Aurelio Lopez, who later pitched for Houston, earned a win in relief for Detroit in the '84 World Series.
“My dream was pitching in the big leagues,” Urquidy said. “I always imagined playing in the World Series and winning the game for us. Something very big for me, big year for me. And I think I’m proud of myself.”
For good reason. Urquidy, 24, turned what was supposed to be a “bullpen game” for the Astros into his coming-out party with an impressive mix of hard fastballs and an effective changeup. A developing slider has given him three solid pitches as he helped Houston even the World Series at 2-2.
“I think all of us have all the confidence in the world in him,” said Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, whose seventh-inning grand slam broke the game open. “We expected that he was going to go out and pitch really well. I think he did. I saw him on the attack. I thought he was attacking all night and using four different pitches. He’s really tough. He was great.”
Houston signed Urquidy as a non-drafted free agent out of Mazatlan, Mexico, on March 2, 2015. It was scouts Raul Lopez and Carlos Alfonso who identified Urquidy as a potential pitching prospect. Both had scouted him across a number of leagues throughout Mexico.
When Oz Ocampo, who was then in charge of the Astros’ international scouting, saw him at a showcase in Monterrey, he was impressed with Urquidy’s advanced repertoire, pitchability and poise on the mound -- the same things the Nats saw in Game 4 of the World Series.
“At 19 years old, that’s something you never see from an international pitching prospect,” Ocampo said Saturday. “He immediately fit into our category of a future Major League starter arm.”
The Astros were aggressive and signed Urquidy quickly. He was pitching in Houston’s system by that summer, but missed all of the 2017 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The Astros' player development staff worked Urquidy through the surgery and recovery and got him to the big leagues this year.
Because of the surgery, Houston had been wary of Urquidy’s workload, but injuries and underperformance at the back end of its rotation left the club without a fourth starter entering the playoffs. Astros manager AJ Hinch was hoping to squeeze as many as five innings and 75 pitches out of Urquidy in Game 4 and couldn’t have asked for more.
“He was outstanding,” Hinch said. “From the very beginning, I thought he was calm. I thought he was in control of his stuff. His fastball had a little extra life to it. It’s had good life this postseason. And he just came up with big pitch after big pitch.”
The Astros pulled Urquidy after five innings because they didn’t want to push him considering he hadn’t thrown more than 2 2/3 innings in a game since working six scoreless frames in his final regular-season start on Sept. 27 at the Angels. He threw 67 pitches.
“You know, I battled with that decision, because going into the game you kind of put in your mind, ‘Go as long as he can as long as he's good,’” Hinch said. “I didn't want to get too greedy with him. His spot was coming up in the order, so I was going to hit for him at the beginning of the inning. …
“That is absolutely the mental anguish that goes [on] at this level at this stage of the season. Do you try to get greedy and squeeze another inning or pull the plug early aggressively and hope that your team picks you up?”
According to Elias, Urquidy is the second pitcher since the LCS began in 1969 to have his first career postseason start be a scoreless outing in the World Series, joining the Red Sox’s Jon Lester in the clinching Game 4 of the 2007 World Series.
“I remember someone asked me back in June when he debuted in the big leagues -- I think it was his second outing -- they asked me what impressed me about Jose, and what I said back then is how calm he is on the mound,” catcher Robinson Chirinos said. “You watch the games he’s pitched, you don’t think he’s been in the big leagues a couple of months. He did it again tonight.
“He’s calm. He’s a quiet kid, he doesn’t talk a lot. I think his personality plays really well to be coming on this kind of stage. It’s not easy to go out there when it’s 2-1 down [in the Series] and give us a chance to win the game. But I think his personality, the way he is, allowed him to perform on this kind of stage.”
Urquidy is the third Mexican-born pitcher in Major League history to start a World Series game, joining Valenzuela and Jaime García (2011). Astros closer Roberto Osuna, who grew up near Urquidy in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, said the country is beaming with pride.
“I’m very happy for him,” Osuna said. “Like I told him after the game, ‘You’re here for a reason. Just trust yourself and go out there and have fun and just make good pitches,’ and that's what he did tonight. I’m very proud for him, and he gave us a victory today.”