The Astros limped into the playoffs, one of only two teams in history to make the postseason with a losing record in Major League Baseball history. They faced a team in the Twins with one of the best pitching staffs in the majors and a power hitting lineup at home. But, in the ninth inning of a pitcher's duel, the Astros came through with a 4-1 win thanks to walks, a fortunate error and timely hitting.
In some ways, it was reminiscent of previous Astros teams taking advantage of unforced errors and being disciplined at the plate. And it gives them the opportunity to close out the three-game series on Wednesday. Here are four thoughts.
Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good.
The game was essentially over when George Springer hit a soft grounder at shortstop Jorge Polanco, who tossed an errant throw at the second baseman allowing all runners to be safe. With two outs in the ninth, the Astros should have been off the field and headed to the bottom of the inning tied at one. Instead, the inning was extended, which led to a walk of Jose Altuve and a two-run single by Michael Brantley...and, ultimately a 4-1 win.
Dusty Baker's pitching moves were on point.
Plenty of eyebrows raised when the Astros skipper took starter Zack Greinke out of the game after four innings and only one run allowed to replace him with Framber Valdez. Then again in the ninth, after Valdez allowed his first two hits of the game with no one out, Baker stuck with his young pitcher. Both decisions worked to perfection.
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Plate discipline and timely hitting looked like the Astros of old.
Before the Astros took the lead in the ninth, they were 1-6 with runners in scoring position. Then, an RBI walk by Jose Altuve and a two-run single by Brantley in the ninth. It was a reminder that this team still has veterans who have been through the postseason successfully for years now. It's hard to know if this will continue, but for one afternoon in Minnesota, the Astros who won a World Series and played in two in the last three years made an appearance.
Framber Valdez was nails.
Starter Greinke only made it four innings before he was replaced by Valdez, who by some measures, was the best Astros pitcher this season. That continued with four hitless innings before giving up a pair of singles in the ninth. He still finished with the win and an impressive performance. For all the worries over Astros pitching in light of Justin Verlander's injury and the loss of Gerrit Cole in free agency, Valdez is one of the real bright spots in their rotation's future. On Tuesday, he was the reason they won Game 1.