The Astros prevailed over the Yankees in a hotly fought ALCS Game 6 on Saturday night in Houston -- one that ended on a Jose Altuve walk-off home run (HOU 6, NYY 4). The win means Houston takes the best-of-seven series in six games and advances to the World Series for the second time in the last three years. The Yankees, meantime, have seen their 2019 season end. Now for nine key takeaways from the classic final game of the 2019 ALCS.
1. Altuve joined elite postseason company
The game was tied 4-4 going into the bottom of the ninth, and Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman was on the mound. He struck out Martin Maldonado and induced a pop-up from Josh Reddick to start the frame. With two outs, however, George Springer singled, which brought Jose Altuve to the plate. By now, you know what happens next:
That one traveled 407 feet and was 105 mph off the bat. More important, that's the just the fifth time in MLB history than an LCS has ended on walk-off homer. Coincidentally, Yankees manager Aaron Boone hit one of those five. Altuve came into this game with a 2019 ALCS slash line of .316/.409/.474, so this clutch series-ender -- his 13th career postseason home run in just 43 games -- made him the easy choice for MVP honors.
2. LeMahieu's battle shouldn't be forgotten
DJ LeMahieu's clutch, game-tying homer in the top of the ninth will of course be buried in our memories thanks to Altuve, but it deserves a moment to shine. With the Yankees down 4-2 and a runner on first with one out, LeMahieu began a 10-pitch battle with Astros closer Roberto Osuna. LeMahieu fell behind 1-2 in the count. After taking a slider for ball two, he then fouled off four straight pitches before taking ball three. Then he got a cutter low and inside and went the other way for a two-run shot:
That, obviously, is not something you see too often:
If the Yankees had won Game 6, then we'd be talking about this homer for a long time. As things turned out, though, we'll instead be talking about Altuve's.
3. Peacock achieved a rare feat with his first pitch
Right-hander Brad Peacock worked the final frame of Game 5 for Houston, and then the very next night he made the "start" in Game 6 (more on the use of scare quotes below). So when Peacock delivered a first-pitch two-seamer to start Game 6, he became the first pitcher in 95 years to start a postseason game on zero days' rest. The last to do it was Firpo Marberry of the Washington Senators in the 1924 World Series. Overall, Peacock is just the seventh pitcher in MLB history to do this. As we'll soon explain, though, Peacock's place on the list comes with an asterisk.
4. Game 6 was a bullpen game, and it felt like it
By design, Astros manager A.J. Hinch and Yankees manager Aaron Boone each approached Game 6 as a bullpen day. That of course started with Peacock, who worked 1 2/3 innings. His counterpart pseudo-starter, Chad Green, worked one inning. In all, the team teams combined to use 14 pitchers in Game 6, and Houston's Jose Urquidy led all comers with 2 2/3 innings and 45 pitches. All of this was certainly understandable from a tactical perspective, but it also hurt the pace of Game 6, particularly at some otherwise high-intensity junctures.
5. Green had one of this worst outings as the 'opener'
Green allowed three runs in his one inning of work, and that's not really in keeping with what's he done this season as the first arm on the mound. Green made 15 starts this season, none lasting more than two innings. Over those games, he pitched to a 3.72 ERA, but that doesn't quite tell the whole story. Green gave up five runs in 1/3 of an inning in an Aug. 15 start against the Indians, and in his other 14 starts he gave up a total of four runs. In 11 of those 15 starts, he didn't give up any runs, and in 11 of those 15 starts the Yankees won the game. Put another way, Green picked exactly the wrong game for his second-worst start of 2019.
6. Gurriel had been struggling badly coming into Game 6
Those three runs off Green came on a Yuli Gurriel home run:
Those wound up being essential runs for Houston. Of note is that Gurriel came into Game 6 with an awful slash line of .050/.091/.050 for the ALCS, and he hadn't homered since Sept. 29 (at the conclusion of a fairly poor September for Gurriel). Still and yet, Gurriel came up with one of the biggest hits of the series.
6. The Yankees had their chances
Neither offense distinguished itself in this series, and truth be told the Yankees' offense was probably the better of the two. What's going to stick in any and all pinstriped craws, however, are the missed opportunities of Game 6. In all, the Yankees went 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position and as a team left eight runners on base.
With runners on first and second and two outs in the first, Brett Gardner was punched out on a ball that wasn't particularly close to the zone. In the third, Didi Gregorius grounded out to the pitcher with the bases loaded to end the frame. In the sixth, the Yankees had runners on first and second with one out and were unable to push a run across. Aaron Hicks hit into an inning-ending double play in the seventh, and Gary Sanchez did the same in the eighth. LeMahieu, as noted, came up huge in the top of the ninth, but when Altuve hit his two-run walk-off those other missing runs took on meaning once again.
7. The Astros' defense stepped up
Josh Reddick made a lunging snare to keep runs off the board in the sixth, and the very next inning Michael Brantley pulled off the catch-and-throw double play from left field to snuff out a potential rally:
Now we go to the eighth, when Carlos Correa completed a 4-6-3 with a 95-mph throw to first base:
And on the subject of the Houston defense, note that Springer almost came up with that LeMahieu home run in the ninth:
Without the plays that did happen, the Astros don't win Game 6.
8. If this had gone seven, the Astros probably still would've won
This one isn't complicated. The Astros were 60-21 at home during the regular season, and they would've had a full-rest Gerrit Cole on the mound for Game 7 opposite a still-not-stretched-out Luis Severino. There's no predicting baseball, especially when two great teams are going at it, but the Astros behind Cole would've been solid favorites in a deciding Game 7 at Minute Maid Park.
Instead, Cole will get the ball in Game 1 of the World Series.
9. The Yankees didn't go to the World Series this decade
While the Astros are four wins from winning both belt and title for the second time in three years, the Yankees haven't won the World Series since 2009. That brings us to this final note:
With the loss in Game 6, this is the first decade since the 1910’s that the Yankees did not win at least one pennant.— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) October 20, 2019
Yeah, it's been a long time since the Yankees went a calendar decade without winning pennant. That implies a proud history, of course, but that's of little consolation to the Yankees and their rooters right about now.