HOUSTON — Breaking down Game 7 of the AL Championship Series between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees at Minute Maid Park:
Astros 4, Yankees 0: Astros win series, 4-3.
The game: Charlie Morton pitched five sharp innings and Jose Altuve sparked a three-run fifth with a homer as the Houston Astros reached the second World Series in franchise history by claiming the last two victories in a series in which the home team won every game.
The Yankees, who got this far at least a year ahead of expectations, were bidding to become just the third team ever to eliminate 100-win teams in the division and league championship series. They took a 3-2 ALCS lead by sweeping the three games at Yankee Stadium, but while they went 6-0 at home in the playoffs, they were just 1-6 on the road.
Brian McCann’s two-RBI double capped the game-opening scoring outburst in the fifth, and Lance McCullers closed out the victory as the Astros outscored the Yankees 11-1 over the last two games.
Morton had made three postseason starts coming in and the last one did not go well, as he gave up seven runs in 3 2/3 innings of Game 3. But he pitched the game of his life this time, even if it was a short start. The 10-year veteran allowed just two hits in his five innings and left with the Astros ahead 4-0.
Risky play by Astros third baseman pays off
Third baseman Alex Bregman’s gutsy play in the fifth preserved Houston’s 1-0 lead and thwarted a New York rally. With runners on first and third and one out, Bregman charged a Todd Frazier tapper and fired and perfect strike to catcher McCann, who tagged out a sliding Greg Bird just as he received the ball.
Yankees starter CC Sabathia was 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA after New York losses this year, including the playoffs. The Astros had a long look at him in Game 3, when they managed just three hits in six scoreless innings, and got five baserunners on in the first three frames, stranding them all.
It wasn’t until Evan Gattis took him deep to left-center – a 405-foot no-doubter leading off the fourth – that Houston finally did some damage against Sabathia. The veteran lefty also benefitted from Aaron Judge’s terrific catch in the second, when he robbed Yuli Gurriel of a homer by crashing against the right-field fence and snagging the ball just before it left the field of play.
Sabathia lasted only 3 1/3 innings, though, and the vaunted Yankees bullpen couldn’t hold off an Astros attack that finally came alive in a 7-1 victory the night before.
Center fielder George Springer followed his terrific Game 6 catch with an even better one, denying Greg Bird of a likely double in the seventh.
State of the series: It’s over, and the Astros move on the face the Los Angeles Dodgers beginning Tuesday at Dodger Stadium in the World Series. Houston will have top starters Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander available on full rest for the first two games.
Man of the moment: Altuve. Morton deserves major kudos for a sensational start, and it wasn’t his fault he was lifted after 54 pitches, although he did have a tough fifth inning. But Altuve is the one who got the game-breaking rally going with his home run, and the one who stoked the crowd into a frenzy.
Altuve, who tied a postseason record with a three-homer game in the division series, leads all hitters in the playoffs with five home runs. He also made a couple of excellent defensive plays throwing out batters at first from short right field on shifts.
Manager’s special: Houston’s A.J. Hinch had a quick hook for Morton, who cruised through the first four innings before getting into and working his way out of trouble in the fifth.
Houston’s bullpen has been shaky, but Hinch had a special weapon in McCullers, who gave up just two hits and a run over six innings in his Game 4 start. McCullers threw four innings of relief for the save.
Needing a mulligan: Tommy Kahnle. The Yankees bullpen started to show signs of wear when David Robertson gave up four runs Friday, and Kahnle looked just as vulnerable on Game 7.
Kahnle had allowed just two hits and no runs in his first 10 postseason innings, but after closing out the fourth by getting a first-pitch double play, he yielded four hits and three runs in the fifth as the Astros took command of the game.
Pivot point: Bregman’s throw. Frazier’s chopper was slow and Bregman had a tiny window in which to zip the ball to McCann for the out. Most third basemen would have taken the sure out at first, but the converted shortstop took a chance and hit McCann’s mitt just inches off the ground as Bird slid into the out.
The play not only preserved the one-run lead but kept the momentum on Houston’s side. The Yankees never regained it.
What you missed on TV: The “Woooo!’’ sounds fans at Minute Maid Park often break into at different parts of the game, especially with outfielder Josh Reddick at the plate. The custom developed this season after the Astros signed Reddick, a big fan of wrestling star Ric Flair, who is known for that signature call. Some fans also came outfitted in robes and blond wigs in tribute to Flair, who was shown on the video board declaring, “Play ball!” just before the game. Of course, he also added a “Woooo!’’
Jorge L. Ortiz, USA Today