There are many tasks in the blogging year that are real chores. Picking out the top ten games of a year that ended in the Houston Astros’ first World Series title was more a labor of love. There can be a lot of different opinions about this list, and that is the point. This is one person’s shot at this and it won’t hurt this writer’s feelings if y’all head off in different directions.
#10. Astros 8, Rangers 7. May 2 Minute Maid Park.
For two seasons the Rangers had the Astros number. Their record in 2015 against Houston was 13-6 and that felt so good they upped it to 15-4 in 2016. If the Astros had just split with the Rangers, say, going 9-10 in 2015 and 10-9 in 2016 they would have won the division both seasons. Instead, they were a Wild Card in 2015 and were left outside looking in, in 2016. Taking care of the Rangers was a psychological barrier the Astros needed to put behind them if they wanted to have a special season in 2017. The Astros first series with the Rangers started well as they rallied for five runs in the 7th to beat the Rangers 6-2 on the first day of May. The second game looked a whole lot like many of the games the previous two seasons. The Rangers were taking batting practice against Mike Fiers early, turning four home runs into a 5-0 lead in the fourth inning. The last couple of years this could easily have resulted in a 11-2 rout.
But not this time. Jose Altuve‘s two-run homer started the comeback in the bottom of the fourth and Marwin Gonzalez‘s right handed solo shot narrowed the score to 5-3 in the 5th inning. The Astros bats then went quiet until they loaded the bases in the eighth inning. Marwin came up left-handed with two outs and his grand salami just inside the RF fowl pole became one of the defining moments of the season shoving the Astros ahead 7-5. George Springer added an RBI single a few hitters later and the Astros took an 8-5 lead to the ninth inning. Luke Gregerson gave up a walk followed by a two-run homer to Nomar Mazara to raise the angst level. Will Harris walked the tight rope for a save, stranding the tying run at 3rd. This game was a clear signal that 2017 was a different year for the Astros and their enemies to the north.
#9. Astros 16, Twins 8. May 29 Target Field.
The Astros made this particular Memorial Day extremely memorable with a rally for the ages. Brad Peacock had pitched scoreless ball for 4 innings and then ran aground leaving the game trailing 3-2 and watched as Jordan Jankowski turned that into a 7-2 deficit in the matter of a few hitters. By the time Ervin Santana finished the seventh inning with an 8-2 lead, the Astros had a win probability of 1%. Two outs into the 8th inning the Astros had closed that lead to 8-6 but still only had a 14% chance of winning the game. After a walk, a balk and four hits including a three-run homer by Carlos Beltran the Astros were winning 13-8 and had upped their chances of winning to 98%. The Astros had sent 14 men to the plate in the eighth inning and turned two walks, a hit by pitch and eight hits (and only one HR) into 11 runs. The additional three runs they scored in the ninth further deflated the Twins, who had to wonder why AL Manager of the Year Paul Molitor could not stop the bleeding after removing Santana.
This was the game that put the Astros in a special category – a team that made no lead impossible to overcome no matter how late in the game.
#8. Doubleheader Astros 12, Mets 8. Astros 4, Mets 1. September 2 Minute Maid Park.
After not adding any help at the July 31 trade deadline, the Astros had wobbled through an uneven 11-17 August. Towards the end of the month Hurricane Harvey hit and the kindly Texas Rangers were so understanding they made the Astros play three games in Tampa as home games. And then two unexpected things occurred. First, the Astros pulled off a trade out of nowhere for Justin Verlander at the second trade deadline on August 31. Second, the Astros decided to go back to Houston and play a series with the Mets even though much of the town was underwater and evacuees were filling the George Brown Convention Center a few blocks from Minute Maid.
There were some who complained about doing this in the middle of the mess, but the instinct that the city and the team needed something to deflect the mind from the mess won out. The team went out and rolled over the Mets twice including starting pitcher Matt “Harvey” in the first game and this was part of an eventual seven-game winning streak and a 20-8 record in September. Though Justin Verlander did not pitch in either of these games, the psychological lift of trading for him was evident and the team went out and won not only this doubleheader, but the whole enchilada for their beloved city.
#7. Game 2 of the ALCS. Astros 2, Yankees 1. October 14 Minute Maid Park.
This was the kind of game that the Astros’ fans were picturing when the Astros made the improbable trade for Justin Verlander at the last second (or was it two) before the Aug. 31 deadline. Verlander gritted his teeth and threw nine innings of five hit, one run ball with the only blemish being a ground rule run scoring double by 3B Todd Frazier in the 5th inning that wiped out the 1-0 lead that Carlos Correa‘s fourth inning blast had provided.
But Verlander’s 124 pitch effort left the Astros tied headed into the bottom of the 9th and with Aroldis Chapman coming in to shut down the Astros. Well, Chapman is still looking for the 2nd and 3rd outs of that inning as Jose Altuve hit a one out single and then scored on a double by Correa, that the Yankees did not (by these eyes) smoothly relay to the plate. When Gary Sanchez treated the ball like a goalie treats a puck, Jose scored to put the Astros up 2-0 in the series.
#6. Game 6 of the ALCS. Astros 7, Yankees 1. October 20 Minute Maid Park.
The team was reeling. The fans were reeling. But after losing 3 in a row in New York including choking away the fourth game with a four-run Ken Giles blow-up in the ninth, Verlander was not reeling. He was dealing. He threw seven shutout innings of five-hit ball, while the Astros gave him three 5th inning runs on a ground rule double by Brian McCann and a two run, two out single by Jose Altuve.
Brad Peacock gave the Yanks some hope with an Aaron Judge moonshot in the top of the 8th, but a homer by Altuve, a two run double by Alex Bregman and a sac fly by Evan Gattis put the game away and set up the Game 7 matchup for a trip to the World Series.
#5. Game 4 of the ALDS. Astros 5, Red Sox 4. October 9 Fenway Park.
This was the beginning of the Astros late inning playoff madness. games 1 and 2 of the ALDS were matching 8-2 poundings of the Sox by the Astros, while Game 3 featured the Red Sox making a series of it with a 10-3 shellacking of the good guys. Game 4 was important, so important that both teams brought back their Game 1 starters, Chris Sale and Justin Verlander in relief in this game. Heading into the 5th inning, Astros starter Charlie Morton had pulled a Houdini by only allowing a run on a 1st inning solo homer by Xander Bogaerts that tied the game at 1-1. He somehow had escaped a bases loaded no out jam in the second and in the third gave up no runs despite allowing a single, double and single. In the third he was helped out by a line drive double play and by Marwin Gonzalez gunning down a runner at the plate. After he walked the second hitter in the 5th, A.J. Hinch had seen enough and brought in Verlander to protect the 2-1 lead. Verlander in his first relief appearance in his major league career, immediately gave up a lead shifting HR to Andrew Benintendi, but then settled down for the next 2.2 innings. The Astros rallied against one of the best regular season pitchers, Chris Sale and one of the best relievers in Craig Kimbrel. Alex Bregman repeated the blast he hit in game one against Sale as he tied the game 3-3 in the eighth. Josh Reddick then had a clutch two-out RBI single against Kimbrel to put the team ahead and grizzled vet Carlos Beltran whacked a run scoring double in the 9th to give the Astros a 5-3 lead. They needed it as Rafael Devers hit a Springer assisted inside the park home run against Giles who then put them in the ALCS with 3 final outs at Fenway.
#4. Game 7 of the ALCS. Astros 4, Yankees 0. October 21 Minute Maid Park
This may always be known as the tandem pitching game. As much as the Astros’ fandom has hated tandem pitching, it was worked to perfection here as Charlie Morton threw five beautiful two hit shut out innings for the win and was capped by four equally beautiful one hit shut out innings by Lance McCullers Jr. for the save. The only drama came in the top of the 5th when Alex Bregman gunned down Greg Bird at the plate to preserve a 1-0 lead at the time.
Evan Gattis got the ball rolling for the Astros with a solo homer leading off the fourth. Manager Joe Girardi looked smart as he replaced C.C. Sabathia with Tommy Kahnle with one out and two on later in the fourth as Kahnle coaxed an inning ending DP from George Springer. Girardi’s IQ dropped in the fifth as Kahnle gave up a solo shot to Jose Altuve and a two-run double to Brian McCann to give the Astros their final margin of 4-0. On to the World Series!
#3. Game 2 of the World Series. Astros 7, Dodgers 6 (11 Innings). October 25 Dodger Stadium.
This was the game that allowed us all to think that the Astros could win the World Series, but heading into the 8th inning it did not look too winnable. Dallas Keuchel had pitched well in game one and lost 3-1. Justin Verlander had pitched even better in game 2, but had allowed three runs on just two hits (both home runs) and the Astros were down 3-1 which had been a death sentence against the Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen prior to this series. Correa drives in Bregman with a single in the eighth to draw the team within one and then Marwin Gonzalez mired in a terrible slump in the playoffs (6/42 for a .142 BA) hit the improbable tying HR in the top of the 9th.
Altuve and Correa hit home runs off former Astro Josh Fields to lead off the tenth, but Ken Giles burped up the 2 run lead in the bottom of the inning. George Springer knocked out the eventual game winning two-run homer in the top of the eleventh, but not without some drama in the bottom of the inning as Chris Devenski got two liners for outs followed by a homer and a game ending K. This would be one of the greatest games in WS history, and the Astros first WS win ever, but was surpassed four days later….
#2. Game 5 of the World Series. Astros 13, Dodgers 12 (10 Innings). October 29 Minute Maid Park.
It is fairly rare for a team to blow a three run lead in a game. In this game, the Dodgers blew a 4 run and a 3 run lead in consecutive innings and the Astros blew a three-run lead in the 9th inning. Dallas Keuchel struggled and put his team in a 4-0 hole. A run scoring double by Carlos Correa and a huge 3 run homer by Yuli Gurriel tied it up in the 4th. Collin McHugh walks two and then gives up a three-run homer to Cody Bellinger in the top of the 5th. In the bottom of the 5th, Clayton Kershaw gives up two walks, then gives way to Kenta Maeda, who then gives up a three-run bomb to Jose Altuve – 7-7. And they were just getting started half way through this 10 inning monster of a game.
Bellinger hits a run scoring triple in the seventh, but Springer ties it with a home run and Correa follows an Altuve RBI double with a two-run homer for an 11-8 lead. The Dodgers creep closer with a run off Brad Peacock in the eighth, but Brian McCann hits a homer off of a lefty for a 12-9 lead headed into the ninth. Chris Devenski gives up three runs including a Yasiel Puig home run to tie it in the ninth. But Alex Bregman’s liner to left along with Derek Fisher‘s pinch running speed bring home the walk off run in the 10th. Astros win one of the craziest and greatest games you will ever see.
#1. Game 7 of the World Series. Astros 5, Dodgers 1. November 1 Dodger Stadium.
This was not the most exciting or most compelling game of the season or even of this series. But it did not need to be. It was THE game. The game that finally pulled King Kong off the baseball backs of the city of Houston in the 56th season of major league baseball here.
World Series MVP George Springer started the game off with a double that led to two runs in the top of the first. His two run homer in the second capped a three run rally that put the team up 5-0. There might have been no drama in this game except for a couple of facts. Starter Lance McCullers Jr. only lasted 2.1 IP after hitting more Dodgers (4) than got hits off of him (3). The second fact was that no lead seemed big enough in a series that boasted game after game of blown leads by each team’s pitchers. The Dodgers were held scoreless through five innings despite putting nine batters on base. They then broke through for a run against Charlie Morton in the sixth, but after leaving two runners on in that inning they were toast as Morton did not allow another runner the rest of the game. Champagne, hugs and marriage proposals ensued.
I’ve added some links to take everyone back to what was going on around these critical times in the Astros’ finest season.
So…..Where do you stand on this list? Wrong 10? Wrong order? Or just right?