WASHINGTON — The Astros have as many stars per square roster inch as any team. Jose Altuve already has been an MVP, Alex Bregman might be this year. Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander already have a Cy Young, Gerrit Cole may get his this year. Yordan Alvarez is going to win the AL Rookie of the Year.
They have a familiar way of beating teams — ask the Yankees. They punch and punch and punch until you see stars. Literally. Carlos Correa walked the Yankees off in ALCS Game 2 and Altuve did so into the winter.
Thus, that Houston’s star of Game 4 was Jose Urquidy — two appearances in a month — was akin to a blackjack dealing extra in “Ocean’s Eleven” stealing the movie from the glittering cast.
As Astros right fielder Josh Reddick said, “He did way more than we could have expected.”
Urquidy was sent out as the opener or sacrificial lamb Saturday night and came back a legend of the fall. This was supposed to be a bullpen day, so the Astros would have been satisfied with two quality innings, elated with three and stunned by four.
They received five shutout frames, and by the end manager A.J. Hinch was second-guessing himself if he should have let Urquidy keep going.
As it was, Urquidy was the rudder in what evolved into an 8-1 Game 4 rout that enabled the Astros to tie the World Series at two games apiece.
“He came up with big pitch after big pitch,” Hinch said.
Don Larsen is the granddaddy of shocking pitching performances this time of year — 11 games under .500 and shelled in Game 2 of the 1956 World Series to authoring Game 5 perfection. Also included is Anthony Reyes, a 24-year-old rookie with a 5.06 ERA for the 2006 Cardinals, who threw eight innings, two runs allowed to outduel the Tigers’ Verlander to win World Series Game 1.
Urquidy also is a 24-year-old rookie, also now on this list. He missed the 2017 season after Tommy John surgery and came into this season as the Astros’ 11th-ranked prospect by MLB. He was fine this year in a few stints, nine games, seven starts, a 3.95 ERA, an intriguing enough arm that Houston put him on its postseason roster every round, though he appeared just once in the Division Series, once in the ALCS; 4 ¹/₃ innings total since Sept. 28, 92 pitches in a month.
“I didn’t want to lead him down a path that we hadn’t asked him to do over the last month and have it turn on him,” Hinch said. “So call it conservative, call it babying, call it whatever you want. But I just go into the game — obviously four or five innings, six innings would be awesome.”
Washington projected an edge having four legit starters. The Astros had Cole, Verlander, Greinke and … so even after the Astros countered two losses in Houston with a Game 3 victory in Washington, the superb Patrick Corbin was waiting in Game 4. Meanwhile, Hinch didn’t even publicly reveal Urquidy would start for the first time since Sept. 27 until past midnight Friday. Urquidy — after Cole, Verlander and Greinke — read like a Mount Rushmore of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Millard Fillmore.
But Urquidy had pitched well in the ALCS Game 6 clincher against the Yankees, one run in 2 ²/₃ innings, five strikeouts. He has terrific control and a full array of pitches and deceived the Nationals by not using his key changeup quite as much. He said he was nervous “a little bit” at the start, yet never betrayed being overwhelmed. And it was Corbin who buckled quickly with two runs allowed in the first.
Urquidy permitted two hits and no walks over 67 pitches. Hinch considered him for the sixth, but thought about not being “greedy” and actually thought about saving pitches on Urquidy in case he were to be needed in Game 6 or 7. When Washington loaded the bases and closed to 4-1 in the sixth, Hinch had momentary regret. But Will Harris extracted the Astros, Bregman hit a grand slam in the seventh and the Nats have now lost the first two World Series games played in Washington since 1933, their two-games-to-none lead, eight-game postseason winning streak and momentum. For the Nationals, D.C. suddenly stands for Dark Clouds — which fits the actual Game 5 weather forecast.
In trusting Urquidy, Houston now has Cole, Verlander and Greinke lined up on full rest for Games 5, 6 and (if necessary) 7.
All those stars need to do now for the Astros to win their second World Series in three years is pitch as well as Urquidy.
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