After watching his team push across three unearned runs in the ninth inning to pull out a 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker was in no hurry to name his starter for Wednesday afternoon’s Game 2 in the best-of-three American League wild-card series in Minneapolis.
“We’ll make that decision after we get our heads together,” Baker said. “We’ll savor this one first because it’s a big win.”
Houston went just 10-17 in September regular-season games and along with the Milwaukee Brewers became the first teams in baseball history to make the playoffs with losing records. Even so, the Astros can advance to the American League Division Series with another win Wednesday.
The pitcher most expected to start Game 2 for Houston, left-hander Framber Valdez, came on in relief to pick up the victory in the opener, allowing just two hits while shutting out the Twins over the final five innings.
Houston took advantage of an errant throw by Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco on what should have been an inning-ending forceout in the ninth with the score 1-1. Jose Altuve walked with two outs and the bases loaded to force in Yuli Gurriel with what proved to be the game-winning run off reliever Sergio Romo. Michael Brantley followed with a two-run single.
“These guys know how to battle,” Baker said. “We’re glad we got an opportunity to play in the postseason and then negate and forget everything that happened the last couple of weeks. We weren’t playing very well, hadn’t been getting very many clutch hits. (But) this team knows how to win. They take pride in what they do.”
Before the Tuesday win, Baker had hinted that right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 3.93 ERA), who hasn’t allowed an earned run over his last 13 2/3 innings and was penciled in to start Game 3 if necessary, could be moved up a day. Right-hander Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.73) is another possibility.
Minnesota will turn to right-hander Jose Berrios (5-4, 4.00 ERA) in what is now an elimination game and also another attempt to snap its record postseason losing streak (17 games) dating back to the 2004 ALDS.
The postseason losing streak already was the longest in major league history. Tuesday’s loss also gave the Twins the record for most consecutive postseason losses in major North American sports, breaking a tie with the Chicago Blackhawks, who lost 16 straight in the NHL playoffs from 1975-79.
Berrios had an up-and-down season but finished strong, going 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA in September. He is 2-3 with a 6.43 ERA in five career starts against the Astros. Berrios won his last start vs. Houston on May 2, 2019, at Target Field, 8-2, allowing two runs on seven hits over seven innings while striking out five.
Minnesota, which earned the nickname “The Bomba Squad” after setting a major league single-season record with 307 home runs in 2019, has gone four games without a homer and managed just a Nelson Cruz double and three singles in the Tuesday loss. The Twins also blew a golden opportunity to take early control of the opener, loading the bases with one out in the first inning but failing to score.
“We’ve got to find ways to get baserunners,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We’ve got to find ways to get on base. And when we had guys out there, we weren’t able to get them in. If we expect to come out here and win, we have to play better.”
–Field Level Media