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

Brandon Scott@@brandonkscottFeatured Columnist IOctober 21, 2021

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

The Houston 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 across Games 4 and 5, tying and eventually retaking 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's 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.

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Astros Players of the Game 

  • LHP Framber Valdez: The 27-year-old became the youngest starter to go eight-plus innings while allowing one run or less in the postseason since Madison Bumgarner in 2016. He was perfect through four innings without even allowing a batter to hit the ball out of the infield. Valdez is known as a groundball pitcher, but he took his reputation 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, leaving the bullpen to shoulder a massive workload until Wednesday.
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

  • 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, slashing just .241/.323/.345 in 18 games. 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. However, things unraveled in the sixth when he walked Jose Altuve to lead off the inning, and a Kyle Schwarber error allowed Michael Brantley to reach base. Alvarez's double knocked him out of the game and sparked a five-run inning Boston couldn't 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 going down 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.

Perhaps most impressive: 41 of the Astros' runs this postseason have been recorded with two outs, which is sixth-most in a single postseason, per MLB.com's Sarah Langs

That's clutch and timely postseason hitting. 

With a rested Astros bullpen and a lineup as hot as can be, 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. 

In Game 6, watch for 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 out of to the second inning after the Red Sox gave Eovaldi an eight-run lead via two grand slams.

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?

Will the Red Sox hitters pick up where they left off with Garcia? Baker has not decided on the Game 6 starter, but if healthy, Garcia is the most likely candidate.

Regardless, one thing is for sure—the bats have set the tone for this series, and Game 6 will likely see plenty more offensive fireworks.


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