Framber Valdez shakes off errors, helps Astros hold on for Game 2 win

HOUSTON – First, Framber Valdez made a mistake. Then he made matters a lot worse, and suddenly the Houston Astros starter was trying to keep Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees from going off the rails.

Valdez worked with a 3-0 lead after Astros third baseman Alex Bregman threw a three-run homer down the left porch at Minute Maid Park in the third frame, but a half-inning later on top of the fourth, the Yankees began a counterattack.

The New York offense ignited with a single from Aaron Judge to start the inning before designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton knocked a bouncer back to the mound. Valdez took a step off the mound to intercept the ball, which bounced off the heel of his glove. As Stanton raced toward first base, Valdez climbed, dove for the ball, and made a throw to first base while falling to his knees. The ball bounced past Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel into right field, and in no time Valdez had runners in second and third with no outs.

“I got a little too confident with this ball,” said Valdez.

A lesser pitcher might not have held things together, but Valdez did. Although Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo and second baseman Gleyber Torres each ended up in one run with a groundout and a

disaster averted.

The inning proved to be New York’s biggest offensive chance of the night as Valdez ended his outing by keeping the Yankees in check and allowing the next 14 batters just two hits. The Astros left-hander finished the night with seven innings pitched, allowing for two runs to four hits while striking out nine and walking none. He had 25 swings and errors, the third-most in a postseason game since the pitch-tracking era began in 2008.

“You always worry that a young player can shrug off something like that,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker. “But [catcher Martin Maldonado], the guys on the team, they said to him, ‘Hey, forget it. We still have the lead. Go out and place.’ He might have ruled them out if he hadn’t had his own flaws.”

Valdez admitted he may have collapsed on the mound a few years ago after making two mistakes in a single game.

“In 2019, I probably would have finished the game,” Valdez said. “I probably would have lost all focus at that moment. But these are all things we are working on and keep working hard to be able to focus better and get better in the game.”

For Valdez, his curveball proved to be the deciding factor. He threw it 40 times in 101 pitches and produced 16 swings and misses. During his initial journey through the Yankees’ lineup, Valdez struggled to find several hitters and fell behind them, creating opportunities for New York’s offense.

“I think I was a bit cold in the first two innings. I wasn’t quite warmed up yet,” Valdez said. “The roof was open, so we’re not used to playing that here normally. After that inning, I was able to warm up properly. And then the curveball got a lot better from the third through the seventh inning. But that’s all the adjustments we make mid-game before, and luckily it worked.”

For Bregman, the homer marked the 14th in his postseason career, the highest in MLB history for a third baseman.

“Just trying to line up a ball is difficult [Yankees starter Luis Severino]’ Bregman said. “He’s one of the best pitchers in the game. I missed a few fastballs and was lucky enough to equalize and put us ahead.”

Bregman broke in the first half of the season, hitting .238/.356/.408 with 11 homers, but turned things around after the All-Star break and hit .287/.379/.515 with 12 homers. He had struggled with injuries the previous two seasons, struggling with a hamstring problem in 2020 and a strained quadriceps in 2021. Baker credited Bregman’s health in 2022 with playing a big part in his second-half success.

“It never really got off the ground there for a couple of years,” Baker said. “He’s played more games than anyone this year and that gave him time to get his punch, get his legs together. He was notable in the second half and in these playoffs. He didn’t have a very good playoff last year. He’s a big game guy. He’s enjoying it.”

The Astros, who lead 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, and the Yankees will face off in Game 3 of the ALCS on Saturday in the Bronx, with the first pitch at 5:07 p.m. ET. Framber Valdez shakes off errors, helps Astros hold on for Game 2 win

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