The Houston Astros entered the stadium where they are most reviled and doubled down on their dominance, relying on a rising star and a slew of old ones to return to a position that has become a birthright.
At the top of the American League.
Five years after winning the World Series in part due to an illegal sign-stealing operation and three years after their sleazy scheme became public knowledge, the Houston Astros stormed into Yankee Stadium and annihilated a flawed opponent, sweeping the New York Yankees in the American Championship Series and advancing to their fourth World Series in the past six seasons.
A Yankee error on Sunday night paved the way for a two-run rally capped by Alex Bregman’s game-winning single, propelling the Houston Astros to a 6-5 victory and a match with the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.
Game 1 will be played on Friday evening in Houston, Alabama. Cy Young Award favorite Justin Verlander will likely face Zack Wheeler or Aaron Nola of the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies are riding high off a five-game victory over the San Diego Padres in a rowdy National League Championship Series, but they will face a very different animal in the National League Division Series.
See, these Astros are undefeated in the postseason at a time when 100-win juggernauts were being eliminated before the leaves changed. They are a spectacular combination of seasoned veterans and talented upstarts, supported by a pitching staff whose bullpen stalwarts have had to take a number, so deep is their domination.
And most of all, they have Jeremy Peña.
This dynasty was expected to be on the downturn when the core of their 2017 champs began to attrit, with All-Star center fielder George Springer and shortstop Carlos Correa departing each of the past two off-seasons. But Peña has replaced Correa with grace and now, in this postseason, in stunning form.
Sunday night, he erased a 3-0 Yankees lead in furious manner, laying waste to a Nestor Cortes fastball and sent it 408 feet into the left field seats at Yankee Stadium, exiting at 104 mph and sending this series careening away from a potential Game 5.
When Harrison Bader’s home run gave the Yankees a 5-4 sixth-inning lead, it just set the stage for a big pratfall. It came when second baseman Gleyber Torres and shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa mishandled a routine double-play ball that would have short-circuited an Astros rally in the seventh inning.
Instead, Yordan Alvarez brought in the tying run and Bregman the go-ahead tally. Three Astros relievers made it hold up, closer Ryan Pressly retiring probable MVP Aaron Judge to end it – and maintain Houston’s reign of domination.
That game-winning rally was begun by second baseman Jose Altuve, who beat out a broken-bat hit off Yankees reliever Jonathan Loaisiga, who was pitching superbly in his third inning of work. The error portended terrible things for the Yankees, whose poor play in the second half shattered aspirations of a 28th World Series title — dreams finished by the Astros.
Altuve and Bregman were part of the sign-stealing gang that was disgraced ever since that title. Now, they are joined byPeña, the mammoth slugger Alvarez and a tough pitching staff that will seek to calm a red-hot Phillies offense.
The dominance was so comprehensive that by the time the ninth inning rolled around, Yankee Stadium was roughly half-empty and those who left forgot to boo Altuve, long the fall guy for the dishonest Astros’ 2017 vanquishing of New York.
Now, they’re returning home, their crimes of the past further in the rear-view mirror and a second World Series triumph in reach Minute Maid Park.