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Astros Primed for World Series Return Thanks to Framber Valdez’s Throwback Gem

Astros Primed for World Series Return Thanks to Framber Valdez’s Throwback Gem

Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez celebrates the end of the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

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The Astros traveled to Fenway Park needing to win at least one game out of three to keep their season alive and force the American League Championship Series back to Houston. 

Boston had taken over the home field advantage with a win at Minute Maid Park in Game 2, then capitalized on that advantage with another convincing win at home in Game 3. 

Then the league’s best offense in the regular season revealed itself. 

The Astros scored 17 runs over 11 innings in games 4 and 5, first to tie and then retake the series lead. 

The Astros head back to Houston just 27 outs away from punching a ticket to their third World Series appearance in the past five seasons, led by one of the most impressive pitching performances in franchise history and a lineup to be feared.

It is difficult to know where the damage is going to come from with this team. Arguably their best hitters this year, right fielder Kyle Tucker and AL batting champion Yuli Gurriel are buried in the sixth and seventh spots of the order. 

The only easy out is catcher Martin Maldonado, in which case Dusty Baker can pinch-hit Jason Castro for the win.

Astros Players of the Game 

  • LHP Framber Valdez: He was perfect through four innings without even allowing a batter to hit the ball out of the infield. Valdez is known to be a groundball pitcher, but this took the idea to another level. He dominated the Red Sox lineup, which had been baseball’s hottest this postseason, and provided enough length to spare the Astros from further taxing their bullpen. In the previous four games, no Astros starter had pitched deeper than 2.2 innings, which means the bullpen had been carrying this series until Wednesday. Failing to go deep into games in these playoffs was not exclusive to the Astros, though. The 27 year-old became the youngest starter to go 8+ innings while allowing one run or less in the postseason since Madison Bumgarner in 2016.

  • DH Yordan Alvarez: This goes down as the signature postseason performance in a young career for Alvarez. He homered, singled and doubled in his first three at-bats. The homer and two-RBI double accounted for the first three runs of the game. Alvarez, who was the unanimous AL Rookie of the Year in 2019, ended that year with a putrid postseason performance. He entered this game hitting .167 in two ALCS (missed last postseason with knee injuries). Now, Alvarez is on a roll, hitting .421 with a 1.086 OPS in the ALCS.

  • 2B Jose Altuve: He followed up Tuesday’s game-tying homer to start the Astros’ rally with a hit, a walk and two runs scored Wednesday in Game 5. Altuve was a few feet away from hitting a grand slam of his own in the eighth inning, but just pulled it foul. 

Red Sox Players of the Game 

  • LHP Chris Sale: More would be made of how well he pitched if not for the Astros being a little better in this game. Sale gave up just three hits and struck out seven batters in 5.1 innings of work. But he gave up the homer to Alvarez in the second inning and walked Jose Altuve to lead off the sixth before an error on Kyle Schwarber and Alvarez’ double started a five-run inning Boston was unable to overcome.

  • 3B Rafael Devers: Only two Red Sox collected hits off Valdez. Devers did it twice, including a solo homer in the seventh inning for Boston’s lone run. It was too little, too late.

The Astros’ Offense Flipped the Script

It was mentioned before but is still worth repeating. Seventeen runs over 11 innings. 

That’s after the pitching staff gave up more grand slams (three) than ever allowed in a postseason series. That’s after managing just eight runs combined in the previous two games.

Consider how the momentum in this series changed with just one swing of the bat. The Astros trailed Boston 2-1 going into the eighth inning of Game 4, in serious danger of falling 3-1 in the series with a potential closeout game at Fenway. 

Then Altuve hit a solo shot to tie it. Carlos Correa led the ninth with a double that spurred a seven-run ninth inning. 

Midway through the seventh inning on Wednesday, behind Valdez on the mound, the Astros were up 6-0 and poised to re-commend the series. 

Perhaps most impressive: 41 of the Astros’ runs this postseason have been recorded with two outs, which is sixth-most in a single postseason. 

Danielle Lerner @danielle_lerner

Dusty Baker on what he told Framber Valdez during his fifth-inning mound visit after the no-hitter vanished: “Hey man, you’re the best. Just be natural and do your thing.”

Brian McTaggart @brianmctaggart

Update: Astros starting pitchers in the ALCS:

Games 1-4: Combined 6 2/3 innings
Game 5: Valdez 8 innings

That’s clutch and timely postseason hitting. 

With a rested Astros bullpen and swinging the bats like this, it’s hard to imagine the Red Sox taking the next two games. 

In Altuve, the Astros have the fastest player in MLB history to reach 20 career postseason home runs. Bregman, who homered in Game 4, has the second most postseason home runs by a third baseman behind only Justin Turner. Only five players have batted in more runs in the postseason than Carlos Correa.

And Gurriel, who leads all Cuban-born players in career postseason hits, RBI and games played, is hitting .473 in the ALCS with a homer and six RBI.

Good luck on picking the poison here.

What’s Next for the Astros and Red Sox?

It’s now down to a two-game series, with both Game 6 and potentially Game 7 at Minute Maid Park in Houston. 

What to watch for in Game 6 is how the likely pitching matchup plays out between Astros rookie starter Luis Garcia and Red Sox veteran Nathan Eovaldi. It’s a rematch of the Game 2 pitchers’ duel, which Garcia could not make it through the second inning and Eovaldi was spotted eight runs by way of two grand slams in the first two frames. 

Garcia, who left that game with knee discomfort, has not pitched since. Eovaldi threw 24 pitches in Tuesday night’s Game 4 loss at Fenway.  

How will Red Sox manager Alex Cora’s decision to gamble with their best starter in relief impact Eovaldi on just three days rest, against an Astros lineup swinging the way his own did earlier in the series?

Or will the Red Sox hitters pick up where they left off with Garcia? Astros manager Dusty Baker said a decision had not been made on the Game 6 starter, but if healthy, Garcia is the most likely candidate.

Astros Primed for World Series Return Thanks to Framber Valdez’s Throwback Gem