Jose Altuve hit a walk-off two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to send the Houston Astros to the World Series with a 6-4 win over the New York Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday at Minute Maid Park.
Houston is headed back to the World Series for the second time in three years.
Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel's three-run homer kicked off the scoring in the first.
The Yankees got two back on a Gary Sanchez RBI single in the second and a Gio Urshela homer in the fourth.
Astros third baseman Alex Bregman added an insurance run on an RBI groundout in the sixth, and timely defense and pitching carried the Astros into the ninth inning.
However, the Yankees tied the game up with one out on a DJ LeMahieu two-run shot that just cleared right fielder George Springer's glove:
Springer drew a walk with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and then Altuve cranked an Aroldis Chapman pitch over the left-center field fence for the game-winner.
The Astros, who won the series 4-2, also beat the Yanks in the 2017 ALCS before eventually winning the World Series in seven games over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Yankees P Chad Green: 1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 K, 1 BB
Yankees 3B Gio Urshela: 3-for-3, HR, 2 R, RBI
Yankees C Gary Sanchez: 1-for-3, RBI
Yankees 2B DJ LeMahieu: 1-for-5, HR, R, 2 RBI
Yankees P Aroldis Chapman: .2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 K, 1 BB
Astros P Jose Urquidy: 2.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 5 K, 1 BB
Astros 1B Yuli Gurriel: 2-for-4, HR, R, 3 RBI
Astros 2B Jose Altuve: 2-for-4, HR, 2B, 3 R, 2 RBI, BB
Astros' Former Weakness Now a Lethal Weapon
The Astros won the 2017 World Series despite the bullpen finishing 17th in reliever ERA in Major League Baseball. That mark didn't improve in the playoffs, with Houston's relievers posting a 5.40 mark.
That didn't matter, however, as a deep and talented lineup plus a strong starting rotation led the Astros to their first-ever World Series win.
This season, the starting staff is still loaded, and the batting order is one of the league's best.
But what makes the 2019 Astros this year's best team (and arguably one of the better ones all-time should they win the Fall Classic) is a stout and reliable bullpen.
Yes, closer Roberto Osuna nearly blew the game by allowing a game-tying two-run homer, but the Astros wouldn't have been in the position to win without their strong relief staff dominating for much of the night.
Brad Peacock set the tone in the first inning by setting the Yanks down in order on just seven pitches, sending the already raucous Minute Maid crowd into a frenzy. That gave Houston a picture-perfect beginning, as Brian McTaggart of MLB.com noted:
That momentum only continued with Gurriel's shot to give Houston a 3-0 edge. The homer put the Astros in great historical position, per MLB Stats:
Peacock didn't get through the second, but the path to the pennant continued with Josh James, who struck out Brett Gardner with runners on first and second.
Then James labored through an inning, and he left the third with the bases loaded and two outs. But the Astros' train kept moving, and Ryan Pressly got shortstop Didi Gregorious on a groundout.
However, Pressly immediately left the game with right knee discomfort, forcing manager AJ Hinch back to the bullpen.
Jose Urquidy was then called upon to eat the middle innings, and he did so while allowing just one run on a Gio Urshela solo shot.
Once again, an Astros reliever ran into trouble when Urquidy put two runners on with two outs. But they were left stranded again, as Will Harris got out of the inning.
The Astros largely coasted from there until the ninth thanks to Harris and Joe Smith. Osuna couldn't finish the job, but the relievers behind him gave Houston enough breathing room for Altuve to become the hero.
Now Houston enters the World Series flying high against a Washington Nationals team it should be favored against.
Both rosters have great starting pitching and solid lineups, but the Astros' bullpen is deeper than that of the Nationals, who have relied heavily on Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson and starters to close the back end of games.
Houston proved that it can throw seven relievers out there if needed, as it did on Saturday. That gives the Astros the edge in the Fall Classic.
Too Little, Too Late for Yanks
In Greek mythology, Zeus punished Sisyphus and forced him to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity only to see it tumble at the peak.
That story represented the Yankees' ALCS.
In three of their four losses, the theme was the same: The Yankees fell behind in the early frames and were forced to play catchup.
Each time, they made dents in the Astros' lead and provided hope they would come through.
Each time, the Yankees did not do so, and the boulder rolled back down the hill.
More of the same occurred in Game 6 on four different plays.
In the third inning, the Yanks placed runners on first and second with one out when Aaron Hicks looked as though he smacked a three-run homer. The sweet swing played tricks on fans watching at home, however, as Hicks got under the ball for a long flyout.
One inning later, Brett Gardner hit a shot down the right field line that cleared the fence, but the ball tailed to the right and just foul.
The Yanks got two runners on again in the sixth with Didi Gregorius at the dish with one out, and he laced a liner into right field. But Josh Reddick caught the ball inches from the ground with a fantastic dive.
If one diving catch wasn't enough, Michael Brantley added to the Yanks' misery with one of his own in the seventh, and he doubled off Aaron Judge to boot:
Former Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey once called baseball a "game of inches," and that sentiment couldn't have been more true for the Yankees this series.
The Bronx Bombers were on the right end of a close play in the ninth when LeMahieu's home run just barely cleared Springer's glove, but Jose Altuve left no doubt about his homer to send Houston to the Fall Classic.
Credit to the Yankees for winning 103 games and making the ALCS despite seeing 30 players land on the injured list throughout the season, including staff ace Luis Severino and sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
But the result is undoubtedly disappointing for the Yanks, who will exit the postseason at the hands of the eventual World Series winner for three straight years if Houston pulls through.
The Astros will host the Washington Nationals for Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8:08 p.m. ET. Fox will televise the game.
Washington, which swept the St. Louis Cardinals in four games to win the National League pennant, is making its first-ever World Series appearance.