HOUSTON, TX – The Houston Astros are going back to the world series!
Astros third baseman Alex Bregman carried the American League championship trophy from the Yankee Stadium field toward the third-base dugout, where a few thousand orange-clad Houston fans filled an otherwise vacant ballpark with cheers. Bregman disappeared into the clubhouse, where the real celebration was about to take place.
By now, the pumping bass of a boombox, the popping of champagne bottles and the craziness that comes with a clinching celebration is old hat for the Astros, but that didn’t stop the party Sunday night. The golden era of Astros baseball is going as strong as ever after they clinched their fourth American League pennant in the last six years by sweeping the Yankees out of the AL Championship Series.
The Astros shook off an early three-run deficit, getting a game-tying three-run homer in the third inning by ALCS Most Valuable Player Jeremy Peña and another lockdown performance from their impenetrable bullpen to beat the Yankees, 6-5, in Game 4 of the ALCS and remain unbeaten in the postseason.
“It's surreal,” Peña said. “You dream about this stuff when you're a kid, and shout-out to my teammates. We show up every single day. We stayed true to ourselves all year. Yeah, we're a step away from our ultimate goal.”
After sweeping the Mariners in the AL Division Series, the Astros overwhelmed the Yankees, taking down the Bronx Bombers in four games to improve to 7-0 in the playoffs. The Astros will meet the National League champion Phillies in the World Series, with Game 1 set for Friday at Minute Maid Park.
Peña, who had his ups and downs in the regular season after taking over for the departed Carlos Correa, hit .353 with two doubles, two homers and four RBIs in the four-game series to become the fifth rookie to win LCS MVP honors.
“He’s been unbelievable since day one,” Bregman said. “He’s worked so hard, he’s a great teammate, shows up ready to compete every single day. I’m super proud of him.”
Houston becomes the fifth team to start a postseason with at least seven straight victories and could tie the 2014 Royals for the record with another win in Game 1 of the World Series. Also in play for the Astros is joining the 1976 Reds (who played seven total games) as the only teams in the Divisional Era (since 1969) to have an undefeated postseason. The 2005 White Sox and 1999 Yankees hold the Wild Card Era (since 1995) record, having both gone 11-1.
“That's a great run but it’s not going to be complete until we get it done,” Astros owner Jim Crane said. “I really want to win another one for the city, for the great fans and for the players who worked so hard.”
Astros manager Dusty Baker, hired in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal, is four wins shy from winning the elusive World Series title that’s the only thing missing on his Hall of Fame resume.
“It's a long road to get here,” Baker said. “There's a lot that happens in the months to get here from Spring Training. It means that we persevered and we stayed together, and we made the necessary trades when we had to try to strengthen certain parts of our team. These guys are a very close-knit bunch of guys.”
Houston has eliminated the Yankees from the postseason four times since 2015, including ALCS triumphs in 2017, '19 and '22, but have one World Series title to show for it. The Astros lost to the Nationals in seven games in the Fall Classic in '19 and in six games to the Braves last year and will face another NL East team in the Phillies, who won 87 games in the regular season.
“They got the same belief over there that we have over here, so I'm sure it's going to be a great series,” Baker said.
Lance McCullers Jr., who threw four scoreless innings in relief to eliminate the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS, grinded through five innings -- he allowed three earned runs and eight hits -- in his sixth start in a potential series-clincher. The Astros improved to 4-2 in those games, with McCullers posting a 2.96 ERA.
“Not my best day to ever pitch, but I had to grind, I had to battle,” he said. “These are the games you measure yourself. The games where everyone’s swinging and missing and you’re rolling, those are the easy ones. When you’ve got to really dig down and battle against a team doing everything they can not to get swept, you find out you’ve got a little bit of grit in there. I’m glad I was able to keep it close enough and our offense did a heck of a job.”
The Astros trailed, 5-4, entering the seventh inning in Game 4 before taking advantage of a throwing error by Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres. Instead of a double play to clear the bases, the Astros had runners at first and second with one out, and they both scored. Yordan Alvarez tied it with a single and Bregman scored Peña with the go-ahead run on a single off Clay Holmes.
“I think we were just trying to put together good-at bats,” Bregman said. “They’ve got a pretty good pitching staff and I think the guys did a really good job of putting some good swings on balls after that. It’s a great team win.”
Houston’s bullpen, which has allowed three runs on solo homers in 33 innings this postseason (0.82 ERA), sent down the final 10 Yankees hitters, with Aaron Judge making the final out on a tapper to closer Ryan Pressly. The Astros erupted from the dugout and celebrated another clinch and an October of perfection.
“The Yankees, the Bronx Bombers, they’re a really good team,” Chas McCormick said. “It’s super hard to beat those guys, they have great pitchers and great hitters, but clinching in New York ... there’s nothing better.”