Saturday, October 21, 2023

Month of MLB: Day 19

Yesterday, for the first time since the playoffs began, we had two really great games.

We started in Arlington, Texas, where the Rangers had effectively conceded two games by saving up their best pitchers for Games Five and Six.  And sure enough, Game Five turned into a classic.  After five innings, the teams were tied at one run apiece.  Then, in the top of the sixth, Houston scraped across a run to take a 2-1 lead.  But in the bottom of the sixth, Adolis Garcia whacked a three-run homer to left to put Texas up 4-2.  Over the next two innings, Texas defended its lead.  Bruce Bochy had saved his good relief pitchers during the blowouts in Games Three and Four, and it looked like they would close the door on Houston.  In the bottom of the 8th, Garcia came up again and was -- of course -- hit by a pitch.  (The Astros don't mess around.)  This led to a brawl that resulted in several players -- and Dusty Baker, the Houston Manager -- being ejected from the proceedings.  At this point, I figured that Houston had lost its cool.

I had thought wrong.

In the top of the 9th, the Astros were facing the Rangers' best relief pitcher:  Jose Leclerc.  In the regular season, Leclerc had 57 appearances with an ERA of 2.68, and he was supposed to face Houston's 8th, 9th, and leadoff hitters.  Here's what happened:

1.  Yanier Diaz (.282, 23 HR's, 60 RBI's) came in to pinch hit.  He singled to left.

2.  Jon Singleton (.165, 2 HR's, 12 RBI's) pinch hit for the catcher.  He walked, putting runners on 1st and 2d with no one out.

3.  Grae Kessinger came in to pinch run for Singleton.

4.  This brought up Jose Altuve (.311, 17 HR's, 51 RBI's), who was hurt in the World Baseball Classic and had only 360 at-bats this year.  To me, Altuve is the Pete Rose of this era.  He's a tough, smart, gritty player who always seems to come through in the clutch.  Over 13 seasons, his batting average for 162 regular season games is .307, with 20 homers and 73 RBI's.  However, he has played in 101 post-season games, and in those games he has batted .270, with 26 homers and 54 RBI's.  In other words, he becomes more of a power hitter in the post-season -- and Houston needed a power hitter with two men on and a two run deficit.  So Altuve lofted a three-run homer to left, and the Astros shut down Texas in the 9th for a 5-4 victory.

It was a devastating loss for the Rangers, who lost three straight at home after winning the first two games in Houston.  Of course, that happened to the Nationals in 2019 -- and they came back to win the last two games in Houston.  Max Scherzer plays for the Rangers, so he can tell the Texas players how Washington did it.  But if they cannot, Houston will become the first team to win three pennants in a row since the Yankees won four in a row from 1998 to 2001.

So then we went to Arizona, where the Phillies and D-backs had a duel of their own.  Arizona went up 2-0 after 3, but the Philly scored one in the fourth, one in the fifth, two in the sixth, and one in the seventh.  At the seventh inning stretch, Philly was up 5-2, and appeared to have things well in hand.  But Philly was treating the contest as a bullpen game, with no pitcher throwing more than 2 1/3 innings, and down the stretch they ran out of pitchers.  The D-backs got one run back in the 7th to make the score 5-3.  Then Alek Thomas hit a two-run homer in the 8th to tie the game at 5.  And then, still in the bottom of the 8th, Gabriel Moreno got a two-out, bases loaded single to put Arizona up 6-5.  Philly couldn't do anything in the ninth, and suddenly this series was tied at two games apiece.

After all that drama, the two series are as tight as possible:

Philadelphia 2 - 2 Arizona
Houston 3 - 2 Texas

Tonight the Phillies and D-backs will play Game Five in Arizona, and tomorrow night Houston and Texas will play Game Six in Houston.  For the first time all month, we have some real suspense about what's going to happen next.

1 comment:

  1. I was following the Astros-Rangers game from the Madisonville football game, and I had a horrible feeling when the little Jose Altuve cartoon came up to bat on the animation.