MINNEAPOLIS — They say everything is bigger in Texas, and an American League Championship Series showdown between the Astros and Rangers could be enough to send the Lone Star State into a baseball-fueled frenzy.
Astros vs. Rangers. Dusty Baker vs. Bruce Bochy. Space City vs. Metroplex – with a spot in the World Series on the line.
One day after the Rangers secured their first ALCS berth since 2011, the Astros returned to the ALCS for an impressive seventh consecutive season after defeating the Twins, 3-2, in a tense Game 4 of the AL Division Series on Wednesday night at Target Field.
“Just looking around the room right now, I’m so proud of everyone here,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said as his teammates sprayed champagne nearby. “It’s not easy. There are great teams in the postseason. The Twins have a great team and so do the Rangers. And so does every team in the postseason. We look forward to competing every year, and we were very fortunate to come out on top in this series.”
Houston will host the Rangers in Game 1 of the ALCS on Sunday at Minute Maid Park. The Astros, who went 9-4 against the Rangers in the regular season, will send Justin Verlander to the mound.
“Anytime you play a playoff opponent, you know each other well, which makes the series fun,” Verlander said.
Astros Game 4 starter José Urquidy, who spent most of the season injured before being moved to the bullpen, made another playoff start. He was as prepared as could be, giving up a pair of homers in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out six batters while striking out a season-high 19 swings and misses.
“I feel very comfortable being here with this team, playing there, creating a good attacking plan with the striker,” Urquidi said. “I know I have a good defense and offense, and that makes me feel very confident. I think that’s why I know that in moments like this, I have to compete and throw the ball well across the zone and keep hitters away.”
The Astros got all the offense they needed in a pair of turnovers from veterans Michael Brantley and Jose Abreu. Brantley tied the game with a solo homer in the second inning, and Abreu launched a Statcast-expected 424-foot opposite-field homer to right in the fourth inning to put Houston up 3-1. It was Abreu’s third homer in the last two games as he continues to bounce back from a subpar regular season.
“I knew we would get to this point in the series, and I was waiting for that opportunity,” Abreu said.
Houston’s bullpen took it from there, as Hector Neres rebounded from a poor outing in Game 1 to record four key hits in Game 4, including a three-hitter. Brian Abreu worked the eighth and closer Ryan Pressley got his 13th career postseason hit by hitting the side, leaving Carlos Correa on deck.
“We’ve all seen what he can do in the postseason, and what he can do is borderline heroic, so that’s the last guy I want to see climbing into the box, especially with a guy in there,” Pressley said. “If he gets to the plate, it means there’s somebody out there. That’s not a guy I want to face in that situation out there. [I tried] To provide the best possible quality of presentations [Max] Kepler, and [I’m] Grateful I put it in the right place I wanted to put it.
With that, the Astros can now turn their attention to the Rangers.
You may remember that the Astros snatched the AL West title from the Rangers on the final day of the season when they beat the D-backs in Arizona and the Texans lost to the Mariners in Seattle. The Rangers haven’t lost since, sweeping the AL Wild Card Series over the Rays and the ALDS series over the Orioles.
“It’s going to be a test,” Astros outfielder Chase McCormick said. “A little AL West rivalry, and it’ll be fun. We play those guys a lot, and that’s a good team out there, so we need to show up.”
The Astros have won seven of their last eight meetings against the Rangers in the regular season. That included a lopsided three-game sweep by Houston at Globe Life Field in early September in which they were outscored by the Texans, 36-10, and crushed by 16 points at home.
None of these numbers matter much now. A berth in the Fall Classic is at stake. The AL banner will fly high over Texas in 2023, but will it be in Houston or Arlington? Fasten seat belts.
“Now both our teams, the Texans and us, are very comfortable in our pens and in our starting rotation,” Baker said. “So it should be a tough series.”
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