The Houston Astros held serve at home in the American League Championship Series, defeating the New York Yankees 4-0 in Game 7 on Saturday to clinch the franchise's second-ever trip to the World Series.
After losing three straight games at Yankee Stadium and facing elimination coming back to Minute Maid Park, the Astros returned home to defeat the Yankees in the last two games to win the AL pennant for the first time.
Jose Altuve and Evan Gattis both hit solo home runs. Brian McCann chipped in with a two-run double in the fifth inning to cap off Houston's offensive output.
After winning 101 games during the regular season, the Astros will be in search of their first victory in a World Series game when they take on the Los Angeles Dodgers beginning Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.
Houston's only previous trip to the Fall Classic came in 2005, when it was swept by the Chicago White Sox in four games.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, based on the records of Houston and Los Angeles, this kind of championship matchup hasn't happened in 47 years:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
This is the first matchup of 100-win teams in the World Series since 1970, when the 108-win Orioles beat the 102-win Reds.2017-10-22 03:21:00
The game began as a pitching duel between CC Sabathia and Charlie Morton. Both starters held the opposition scoreless through the first three innings.
The Astros were making Sabathia work hard, especially after the former AL Cy Young winner needed just seven pitches in the first inning. He gave up at least one hit and one walk in the next three innings.
Fortunately for Sabathia, Aaron Judge is very tall in right field. The likely 2017 AL Rookie of the Year made a spectacular defensive play for the first out in the second inning by robbing Yuli Gurriel of a home run:
Big League Stew @bigleaguestew
There's what clutch Aaron Judge catch to steal a homer https://t.co/GQEPSr9M5k2017-10-22 00:35:44
It's easy to get wrapped up in Judge's prodigious power, which produced 52 home runs during the regular season, but ESPN's Jerry Crasnick noted he's also an excellent defender:
Jerry Crasnick @jcrasnick
Aaron Judge was fifth among MLB right fielders with 9 Defensive Runs Saved this season. He's been terrific defensively in October.2017-10-22 00:35:11
Things would remain scoreless until the fourth inning when the Astros finally broke through off Sabathia on Gattis' solo homer that just missed the Crawford Boxes in left field:
Good luck robbing this one. #Game7 https://t.co/3Rn1N911HJ2017-10-22 01:39:59
Per ESPN's Jayson Stark, Gattis had been in a power slump dating back to the middle of summer before getting Houston on the board:
Jayson Stark @jaysonst
Evan Gattis had hit one HR since July before that prodigious swing2017-10-22 01:21:59
Sabathia's night—and possibly his Yankees career, since he will be a free agent—ended three batters later after giving up a walk to Brian McCann and a Josh Reddick single. It was not a good two-day stretch for New York starting pitchers, as noted by Joel Sherman of the New York Post:
Joel Sherman @Joelsherman1
Severino/CC combined to give #Yankees just 8 IP combined in Gs 6-7. #Astros2017-10-22 01:27:52
Going back to Game 6, there were indications the Astros offense was on the verge of ending its series-long slump. Houston exploded for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to take what was a two-run game and make the final 7-1.
Mike Axisa of CBS Sports wrote about what Houston's lineup was doing in the first five games against Yankees pitching:
"The Astros, as a team, went into Game 6 hitting .147/.234/.213 in the ALCS. Altuve went hitless in Games 3-5 in New York before picking up the two-run single and solo homer in Game 6. Carlos Correa went 2 for 12 in Games 3-5 before going 2 for 4 in Game 6. McCann? He was 0 for the postseason before his double broke the scoreless tie."
After Sabathia wobbled his way through 3.1 innings, the Astros finally broke down the dam in the bottom of the fifth with three runs off reliever Tommy Kahnle.
Before Houston's offense got going, though, the defense stepped up in a big way behind Morton. Greg Bird started the fifth inning with a double and advanced to third on a wild pitch, but he was thrown out at the plate on a perfect throw from third baseman Alex Bregman to McCann.
MLB.com's Joe Posnanski had this assessment of what went down on Bregman's play to get Bird out and keep the score 1-0:
Joe Posnanski @JPosnanski
Smoltz credits Bregman with “Baseball IQ” on play. I don’t know. Throwing home there was a bit crazy. He just made a once in a decade throw.2017-10-22 01:51:03
The Yankees' Achilles heel all season has been playing on the road. They were the only playoff team with a losing record away from home during the regular season (40-41), and they went just 1-6 away from Yankee Stadium in the postseason.
This was the first playoff series since the 2004 NLCS, featuring the Astros and St. Louis Cardinals, in which the home team won all seven games.
New York began the ALDS against Cleveland being shut out 4-0 when Trevor Bauer threw 36 curveballs out of his 98 pitches. That blueprint carried through to Game 7 of the ALCS for Morton and reliever Lance McCullers, per ESPN's David Schoenfield:
David Schoenfield @dschoenfield
Morton and McCullers: 108 combined pitches, 77 curveballs. Awesome performance.2017-10-22 03:23:30
Even though the Yankees' young core missed out on an opportunity to reach the World Series this year, their future remains incredibly bright. Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Greg Bird and Didi Gregorius are all under the age of 28, and they will have a full season of Sonny Gray in the rotation in 2018.
The Astros were the best team in the AL for most of the season, despite finishing one game behind Cleveland in the overall standings. They struck gold on Aug. 31 by adding Justin Verlander to their starting rotation, pairing him with Dallas Keuchel, and closed the season by going 21-8 from Sept. 1-Oct. 1.
Three years ago, when the Astros were in the midst of their fourth straight season with at least 90 losses, Sports Illustrated predicted they would win the 2017 World Series.
With four more victories, the Astros will make that bold prognostication a reality.
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