HOUSTON — The full extent of the Astros’ terrific pitching depth was shown throughout the postseason, showing their greatest strength from the regular season. The Astros recorded the American League’s best ERA and had the best bullpen in the major leagues, which helped propel them to the top of the AL and meet high expectations in October.
As the postseason began, there were still questions about the Astros’ lineup depth alongside star players Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and Alex Bregman. Was the Astros’ lineup long enough for the playoff grind? Could opposing pitching staffs work around the bats and take advantage of some end-of-lineup matchups?
Though Altuve started the 2022 playoffs in a 0-for-19 funk and pitchers became more cautious about how they field Alvarez after he hit game-changing homers in the first two games of the AL Division Series, the Astros continue to find heroes. Yuli Gurriel, Chas McCormick and Jeremy Peña propelled the Astros to a 4-2 win over the Yankees in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series at Minute Maid Park Wednesday night.
“I’m just glad we have the depth in our lineup, that we have guys that are like, ‘Hey man, you’ve been picking us up for so long, we’re picking you ’til you pull yourself together,'” Astros said manager Dusty Baker.
The Astros, who were undefeated in the postseason (4-0), will hand the ball in Thursday’s Game 2 to all-star left winger Framber Valdez, who has a chance to go 2nd in the best-of-seven series :0 lead to go to New York this weekend.
In the history of best-of-seven postseason series, teams that led 1-0 have won 119 of 185 times (64%). In all series with the current 2-3-2 format, teams that won Game 1 at home have won 64 out of 96 times (67%).
McCormick, who has struggled for playing time in midfield since the Astros let George Springer off-hand after the 2020 season, went 2-on-3 with a double and his first postseason career homer.
“We’ve got a really good lineup and it looks like if the big boys don’t go then the bottom part of the lineup can get going,” he said. “If the bottom part of the lineup isn’t going, the big ones can get going. It just speaks to how complete this team is.”
Gurriel, an Astros postseason hero of recent years who was having an underperforming regular season at age 38, came on as a substitute in October and is 7-for-19 with two homers in four postseason games. And Peña, the hot rookie who replaced franchise icon Carlos Correa at shortstop, continued his coming-out party with three more extra base hits in Game 1.
“I would say that’s what makes us so good,” Peña said. “We pick each other up every night. Sometimes when we don’t put quality bats together, our pitchers wear us out. And when they don’t have their day on the hill, we carry them with the lineup. Like I said, that makes us a great team.”
While the offensive received contributions off the big bats, it was reliable ace Justin Verlander who handled the heavy lifting on the mound. Verlander batted 11 batters and held the Yankees to a run in six innings to earn his first playoff win since Game 1 of the 2019 AL Division Series. He became the second-oldest pitcher in postseason history by a double-digit strikeout game behind Nolan Ryan. Verlander’s eight career postseason games with double-digit K ratings is two more than any pitcher in playoff history.
“Just because we won Game 1, we understand there’s still a tough road ahead of us,” said Verlander. “We expect everyone to come [Thursday] just like we lost this game. That’s the sense of urgency we always have, especially in the playoffs, but that’s why I think these guys are so special because we’re doing that in the regular season too, but in the playoffs it takes it to another level .”
The game was tied in the sixth inning when Gurriel and McCormick homed helper Clarke Schmidt. Peña, whose homer in the 18th inning in Game 3 of the ALDS on Saturday in Seattle in a 1-0 win, led Lou Trivino 4-1 in the seventh inning with a homer. Ryan Pressly recorded the last four outs and stranded a pair of runners in the eighth.
“Obviously this is a team and we’re all here trying to protect and cover for all our other players and I think that’s why we’ve had so much success over the past few years,” Gurriel said.