NEW YORK — The Houston Astros made going to the World Series look easy.
After all, this is October, the time of year when it’s easy to schedule the Astros for a deep postseason run — and 2022 was their sixth straight trip to the American League Championship Series. And somehow this year’s Astros team made things look even easier, rolling through the regular season with 106 wins and winning all three games against the Seattle Mariners in the ALDS and all four games against the New York Yankees in the ALKS.
The Astros won Game 4 of the ALCS 6-5 Sunday night, earning their fourth World Series ticket since 2017.
Of course, the Astros are in the World Series with a roster that includes a Hall of Fame ace in Justin Verlander and established superstars like Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yordan Álvarez.
But beneath the facade of inevitability lies an organizational culture that takes nothing for granted, that never requires a deep trip into October, that never stops hungering for another World Series trophy.
“It’s a long road to get here,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker. “A lot happens in the months leading up to spring training. That means we persevered and stuck together, and we made the necessary trades when we had to try and strengthen certain parts of our team.”
The Yankees fought Sunday night to keep their season alive for another day. New York started the night’s scoring at the end of the first goal when designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton scored on a sharp line against Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker and Yankees midfielder Harrison Bader scored. By the end of the second inning, the Yankees had a 3-0 lead over Gleyber Torres’ RBI singles and Anthony Rizzo’s RBI doubles.
The early lead didn’t scare Houston.
“The thing about this team is that they don’t panic,” Baker said. “You never panic. They try to find a way. It was early in the game and you want that to happen to you early in the game because you have time to come back and recover.”
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Yankees starter Nestor Cortes drove through the first two innings of the game, striking out two and hitting just eight batters while not conceding any runs. But by the time Cortes started the third inning, warning signs began to flash. New York’s skilled left-hander started the evening with a 91-92 mph fastball, but by the time Cortes launched the third, his speed dropped to 87-88 mph.
And then the Astros came charging back. Cortes led Martin Maldonado and Jose Altuve early in the inning before rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña – en route to ALCS MVP – leveled the game with a three-run homer. A few hitters later, first baseman Yuli Gurriel knocked on in an RBI singles to put Houston 4-3 ahead before heading into the fourth inning. The home run was the nail in the coffin for Cortes when Yankees manager Aaron Boone and the team coach jumped out of the dugout and took the left-hander out of the game due to an injury later revealed to be a left groin strain.
But the Yankees responded immediately in the fourth inning with an RBI single from Rizzo to level the game. The score remained a tie through the sixth inning when Bader hit his fifth homer of the postseason to give New York a 5-4 lead.
But just a half-inning later, the Astros reclaimed the lead for the final time. A single from Álvarez finished the game at 5 apiece before Bregman drove in the starting shot for a 6-5 advantage and eventually secured a matchup with the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.
“These guys here, we’ve never been afraid of the brightest lights,” Verlander said. “Of course New York brings the brightest lights, the most attention. More than anything, it’s about not being afraid. I think we’ll take it and bring our A-game and we’ll play our best baseball.”
The Astros roster is an experienced group that understands the pressures of playing in October, but the team credits the clubhouse culture they’ve developed over the years to help them keep a run deep well into the postseason to do to the other.
“I don’t say that lightly, but this team, I can feel it, man,” said Astros starter Lance McCullers, who went five innings and conceded four runs, earned three and dropped six in Game 4. “We want it. We really, really want it. Deep down, that’s what we want.”
Astros designated hitter Trey Mancini arrived from the Baltimore Orioles after the close, and the established culture of success made for a smooth transition into the winning atmosphere in Houston.
“It’s just contagious,” Mancini said. “You just want to improve every day. These guys prepare better than anyone I’ve seen.”
Baker said this iteration of the Astros is better poised to win the World Series than last year’s group Garcia and due to the presence of a healthy Verlander and McCullers – who missed the 2021 Fall Classic – and the improvement of young players like Framber Valdez and Luis Christian Javier.
The red-hot Phillies, who played like a destiny team, will present a formidable challenge to the Astros.
“The Phillies, they can hit,” Baker said. “They have a couple of rotary type pitchers. They have their bullpen together. They play good defense. As you can see, they don’t give up. … They come so far, they have the same faith over there as we have over here.”
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The Yankees, meanwhile, are ending their season in disappointment, with Aaron Judge’s game-ending groundout possibly his final blow as a member of his current team.
Boone acknowledged that the Astros are the standard bearer for the rest of the American League.
“We just got beaten by a better team and that’s the reality,” Boone said. “They are clearly setting the mark in this league that we are aiming for.”
The team the rest of the AL is vying for is now one step away from winning their first World Series title since 2017.
“We’re popping up every single day,” said Peña, who earned ALCS MVP honors after hitting .353 with two homers and four RBIs in the series. “We have remained true to ourselves throughout the year. We are only one step away from the big goal.”
Houston hosts the Phillies in Game 1 of the World Series on Friday at Minute Maid Park. The Astros opened at -180 to win the Fall Classic at Caesars Sportsbook.
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https://6abc.com/houston-astros-advance-phillies-world-series-new-york-yankees-alcs-game-4/12368825/ Houston Astros sweep New York Yankees to reach 4th World Series in 6 years, will face Philadelphia Phillies in 2022 World Series