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Oct. 5 A.J. Hinch Astros Postgame interview

MLB.com

Q. Seems like almost every game we ask you about Jose Altuve. But watching what he did today, after the season he's had first game of the playoffs at home, what's it like watching him do what we ask you about every game?

A.J. HINCH: First off, how good is Jose Altuve? I mean that is such a good day for him personally, for our team. No surprise to those of us that have been with the Astros or following the Astros for a long time. It's incredible to watch him step up and be every bit the star that we needed today for sure. It's hard to describe in different ways. The local media here is probably bored with how I talk about him, but he's exceptional and he's prepared. And he went out today and kept a really calm heartbeat and got pitches to hit and did incredible damage.

Q. He did something today by hitting three home runs that only people like Babe Ruth and Pablo Sandoval have done. Are we going to have to start calling him a "slugger"?

A.J. HINCH: I think we can officially call him a "run producer." I think in a lot of ways he gets so many hits that I think some of his run production gets cast aside a little bit. But he's the best hitter in the league, and that's in a league of really, really good hitters. And to watch him have a day like today, it's a great reward for the work that's put in to not only be a good hitter who gets hits, but be a good hitter who produces runs, and that's not easy to do at this level.

Q. The story of this offense has been quality at-bats, the Gonzales double in the fourth and then his 10 pitch at-bat before the McCann single. How critical are those at-bats?

A.J. HINCH: Sure, we had four, two-out runs that we scored after some good at-bats. We didn't have a guy in the lineup that didn't have good at-bats today and I think that speaks to why we're a good offensive club. And we need those big hits, especially in the big moments, and putting up good at-bats is one of the themes on our team. It's a staple for up and down the order. I got a guy with 309 RIBs and 20-plus homers in the eight hole today, and Marwin just did a great job of coming up big with a double off of Sale and then works an incredible at-bat, ends up punching against Kelly, but set up McCann with his at-bat. So we pass the baton pretty well around here, and I think our guys take great pride in putting up good at-bats and being productive and today it was an example of that.

Q. Obviously we made a lot of the Chris Sale/Justin Verlander matchup coming in this. Your thoughts on how that ended up playing out today?

A.J. HINCH: I thing the early part of the game showed us is how difficult it is to conserve your pitches in a playoff atmosphere and against two playoff teams that are good because both guys had to exert a lot of energy and a lot of pitches in the first third of the game. Obviously we came up big with some big hits. They came back, put together some innings to score their runs to tie it up, and we ended up chasing Sale with some big hits later in the game. So rarely do you get this kind of premium matchup like this. It lived up to it because of how difficult our hitters and their hitters had to work in order to get something. It's a really, really good game on our end. I was proud of Verlander getting through the 6th inning because as the game was unfolding early, I didn't think either guy was going to last as deep as what we all anticipated. But our guy lasted a little longer.

Q. Two part question. One, how important was it to get off the start you got off to? Second, I know it's going to get a little covered up now, but given the situation, how important was the challenge that you won?

A.J. HINCH: Playing with the lead, it wasn't a very long lead, they scored a couple runs by the end of their fourth. But I think for us playing with the lead initially, Bregman's Homer really ignited the crowd and got us into it. Then Altuve goes back-to-back, and we look up, we have a ton of energy at that point. Now they stayed the course and had really good at-bats against Verlander to get their two one-run innings. But it's nice to play with the lead. It's an intense environment and if you have if you're down, you feel like you're down. You start counting outs in a playoff game, and it can get really difficult when you start piecing it together. So proud of our guys to get the lead, it's important. We said we needed to get to Sale early, we did. He rebounded, had a couple good innings, and then we had a really good middle third of the game to separate ourselves. Second question is, I think all challenges that go back our way are good challenges, so it feels pretty good when you're able to help your guys.

Q. Talk about Verlander having to throw a lot of pitches early. He was at 79 through four innings and then 20 for the last two. Did he just settle into the game?

A.J. HINCH: Well, I think that he started pounding the strike zone a little bit. The initial feeling I think when you get into a playoff game is you have to be careful and you have to pitch to the margins. You're working on executing every single pitch perfectly and that can drive your pitch counts up. Yet the opposing team has something to do with that. And then he went into an aggressive mode and they put some early balls in play. He got some early outs and that helped him. Guys feed off of that when you can get some quick outs. I think he knew he had to do that in order to last a little bit deeper into the game. You have to ask him if he changed his approached, but it definitely looked like it to be able to get through the last couple innings with minimal pitches.

Q. With Sale, knowing you might face him again, but was there something you targeted with him? Was there a specific game plan?

A.J. HINCH: I think we really tried to stay in the strike zone, which is not uncommon. I think every team that paces him really tries to avoid the chase-slider back foot, the change-ups that he's starting to throw a few more of, and then the elevated fast ball. George set the tone early with a really good at-bat. He struck out looking on the 3-2 pitch. But working on that count, trying to make him make pitches and throw strikes and not be overly aggressive, but yet be ready to hit. It's very complicated when face a premium guy like that, you go up swinging early, put balls in play, you look up and he's at 50, 60, 70 pitches through six innings. That's a dangerous way to go. So we have to find the balance of how aggressive to be against him and try to stay in the strike zone. We didn't chase a ton today, which is a staple of when Sale is really good, he shows you flashes strikes but makes you chase balls out of the zone, and I thought our discipline was pretty well done.

Q. Seems like almost every game we ask you about Jose Altuve. But watching what he did today, after the season he's had first game of the playoffs at home, what's it like watching him do what we ask you about every game?

A.J. HINCH: First off, how good is Jose Altuve? I mean that is such a good day for him personally, for our team. No surprise to those of us that have been with the Astros or following the Astros for a long time. It's incredible to watch him step up and be every bit the star that we needed today for sure. It's hard to describe in different ways. The local media here is probably bored with how I talk about him, but he's exceptional and he's prepared. And he went out today and kept a really calm heartbeat and got pitches to hit and did incredible damage.

Q. He did something today by hitting three home runs that only people like Babe Ruth and Pablo Sandoval have done. Are we going to have to start calling him a "slugger"?

A.J. HINCH: I think we can officially call him a "run producer." I think in a lot of ways he gets so many hits that I think some of his run production gets cast aside a little bit. But he's the best hitter in the league, and that's in a league of really, really good hitters. And to watch him have a day like today, it's a great reward for the work that's put in to not only be a good hitter who gets hits, but be a good hitter who produces runs, and that's not easy to do at this level.

Q. The story of this offense has been quality at-bats, the Gonzales double in the fourth and then his 10 pitch at-bat before the McCann single. How critical are those at-bats?

A.J. HINCH: Sure, we had four, two-out runs that we scored after some good at-bats. We didn't have a guy in the lineup that didn't have good at-bats today and I think that speaks to why we're a good offensive club. And we need those big hits, especially in the big moments, and putting up good at-bats is one of the themes on our team. It's a staple for up and down the order. I got a guy with 309 RIBs and 20-plus homers in the eight hole today, and Marwin just did a great job of coming up big with a double off of Sale and then works an incredible at-bat, ends up punching against Kelly, but set up McCann with his at-bat. So we pass the baton pretty well around here, and I think our guys take great pride in putting up good at-bats and being productive and today it was an example of that.

Q. Obviously we made a lot of the Chris Sale/Justin Verlander matchup coming in this. Your thoughts on how that ended up playing out today?

A.J. HINCH: I thing the early part of the game showed us is how difficult it is to conserve your pitches in a playoff atmosphere and against two playoff teams that are good because both guys had to exert a lot of energy and a lot of pitches in the first third of the game. Obviously we came up big with some big hits. They came back, put together some innings to score their runs to tie it up, and we ended up chasing Sale with some big hits later in the game. So rarely do you get this kind of premium matchup like this. It lived up to it because of how difficult our hitters and their hitters had to work in order to get something. It's a really, really good game on our end. I was proud of Verlander getting through the 6th inning because as the game was unfolding early, I didn't think either guy was going to last as deep as what we all anticipated. But our guy lasted a little longer.

Q. Two part question. One, how important was it to get off the start you got off to? Second, I know it's going to get a little covered up now, but given the situation, how important was the challenge that you won?

A.J. HINCH: Playing with the lead, it wasn't a very long lead, they scored a couple runs by the end of their fourth. But I think for us playing with the lead initially, Bregman's Homer really ignited the crowd and got us into it. Then Altuve goes back-to-back, and we look up, we have a ton of energy at that point. Now they stayed the course and had really good at-bats against Verlander to get their two one-run innings. But it's nice to play with the lead. It's an intense environment and if you have if you're down, you feel like you're down. You start counting outs in a playoff game, and it can get really difficult when you start piecing it together. So proud of our guys to get the lead, it's important. We said we needed to get to Sale early, we did. He rebounded, had a couple good innings, and then we had a really good middle third of the game to separate ourselves. Second question is, I think all challenges that go back our way are good challenges, so it feels pretty good when you're able to help your guys.

Q. Talk about Verlander having to throw a lot of pitches early. He was at 79 through four innings and then 20 for the last two. Did he just settle into the game?

A.J. HINCH: Well, I think that he started pounding the strike zone a little bit. The initial feeling I think when you get into a playoff game is you have to be careful and you have to pitch to the margins. You're working on executing every single pitch perfectly and that can drive your pitch counts up. Yet the opposing team has something to do with that. And then he went into an aggressive mode and they put some early balls in play. He got some early outs and that helped him. Guys feed off of that when you can get some quick outs. I think he knew he had to do that in order to last a little bit deeper into the game. You have to ask him if he changed his approached, but it definitely looked like it to be able to get through the last couple innings with minimal pitches.

Q. With Sale, knowing you might face him again, but was there something you targeted with him? Was there a specific game plan?

A.J. HINCH: I think we really tried to stay in the strike zone, which is not uncommon. I think every team that paces him really tries to avoid the chase-slider back foot, the change-ups that he's starting to throw a few more of, and then the elevated fast ball. George set the tone early with a really good at-bat. He struck out looking on the 3-2 pitch. But working on that count, trying to make him make pitches and throw strikes and not be overly aggressive, but yet be ready to hit. It's very complicated when face a premium guy like that, you go up swinging early, put balls in play, you look up and he's at 50, 60, 70 pitches through six innings. That's a dangerous way to go. So we have to find the balance of how aggressive to be against him and try to stay in the strike zone. We didn't chase a ton today, which is a staple of when Sale is really good, he shows you flashes strikes but makes you chase balls out of the zone, and I thought our discipline was pretty well done.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.