A few thoughts on the Astros 3-0 win over the Yankees last night in the Bronx, advancing Houston to the Division Series round…
*Everything has to start with Dallas Keuchel. If the Astro lefty won the Cy Young Award voting that was held on Monday and will be announced in November, this game was a heckuva validation. Keuchel moved the ball side-to-side with the artistic brilliance being celebrated in the current GMC commercials (“a pitcher who can paint the corners is known as a Rembrandt”), cruised through six innings of shutout baseball.
*It does beg the question of why on earth Houston manager A.J. Finch took Keuchel out after 87 pitches and six innings. While the lefty did get in modest trouble in the sixth, it was nothing that suggested he’d lost his stuff. Tony Sipp came out of the bullpen and it’s a testament to how badly the Yankee offense has collapsed that they couldn’t get anything going against the wildly erratic Sipp.
*The excellence of Keuchel and the ineptitude of the Yankee bats was aided by some really inconsistent umpiring behind the plate. Alex Rodriguez was called out on a third strike in the first inning that was easily high and outside. After that, it seemed like Keuchel got most borderline pitches, while counterpart Masahiro Tanaka did not. For the record, I loathe the Yankees, so for me to cut them any slack—particularly A-Rod—is a source of angst. But they have a legit beef.
*I thought Houston’s second baseman Jose Altuve in-game progression was basically the model for a young team growing in the postseason. He looked awful in his first at-bat, mediocre in his second and finally pretty good in his third at-bat, even though he made an out. Altuve then came up with two clutch plays, in the field and at the plate. He barehanded a flip from shortstop Carlos Correa in the sixth, a great presence-of-mind play that saved a force-out and enabled Keuchel to escape unscathed. And later, Altuve put on his best at-bat of the night, pulling a pitch down the left field line, just fair, for a crucial insurance run.
*Similar kudos have to go to Correa. The young shortstop didn’t do anything at the plate, but his play on the aforementioned play with Altuve was a game-saved. With one out and a man on first, a ball hit back up the middle looked certain to set up a big inning until Correa ranged behind the bag and made the nice flip. This is a great young player and he, along with Boston’s Xander Bogaerts, are set to dominate this position in the American League for the next decade.
*It was a couple years ago that Houston centerfielder Carlos Gomez, then with Milwaukee, got into a shouting match at home plate with New York catcher Brian McCann, then with Atlanta. McCann, a self-anointed enforcer of righteousness in baseball didn’t care for Gomez’s trash talk and decided to confront him at home plate. Gomez took his revenge last night with a loud home run to left field. Another NL Central-castoff—Colby Rasmus, once a rising star in St. Louis, was the other hero, taking Tanaka deep in the second inning.
*Now it’s time to shovel some dirt on the Yankee grave. Whatever Jacoby Ellsbury has done well this season has to be wiped out by the fact he wasn’t in the lineup last night. The Yankees paid $153 million over seven years to a player not deemed worthy to play in an elimination game. And it wouldn’t be Alex Rodriguez in October if he didn’t miss an opportunity to come up big. A-Rod flew out softly to center to end the two-on with two-out rally in the sixth, and later struck out meekly in the ninth.
*Let’s close with a lament about the overall quality of play in the American League. To be frank, neither of these teams looked playoff-caliber. If you made a list of the best eight teams in baseball, only Kansas City and Toronto would make it out of the American League and even with the Royals that’s more about season-long performance rather than current form. The San Francisco Giants are better than the other three AL playoff teams (Texas, along with Houston and New York). I’m not advocating a change in the playoff system, I’m just sayin’.
Wild-card action continues tonight with Cubs-Pirates in the NL elimination battle (8 PM ET, TBS). The American League Division Series round begins Thursday with Rangers-Blue Jays and Astros-Royals, starting at 3:30 PM ET. Both games are on FoxSports1.