Jose Altuve hit a two-run walk off homer to lift the Houston Astros to a 6-4 win on Saturday over the New York Yankees and punch their ticket to the World Series for the second time in three years.
Altuve’s dramatic blast with two outs in the bottom of the ninth came after the Yankees DJ LeMahieu had tied the marathon contest with a home run in the top half of the inning.
“That’s how you take a punch in the face and not flinch and punch them right back,” said Astros star pitcher Justin Verlander.
Altuve’s performance was backed up by superb defence from outfielders Josh Reddick and Michael Brantley, who made game saving diving catches in back-to-back late innings for the Astros to clinch the AL Championship series in six games.
The Astros, who captured the World Series title in 2017, will host the upstart Washington Nationals in the MLB championship series starting on Tuesday.
“I get asked to describe Jose Altuve all the time,” Houston manager AJ Hinch said. “I think MVP is what he is.”
Altuve’s homer off Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman travelled 407 feet to left field and scored teammate George Springer, who walked to start Houston’s half of the inning.
Altuve hit the fifth walk-off pennant-winning playoff home run in league history, joining Yankees manager Aaron Boone, Travis Ishikawa, Chris Chambliss and Magglio Ordonez.
“The ending was cruel,” said Boone. “It is really cruel.”
The teams combined to use 14 pitchers in a sustained game that took four hours and nine minutes.
Reddick made a clutch diving catch in the top of the sixth off the bat of Brett Gardner to preserve the Astros’ lead with the Yankees runners in scoring position.
Not to be outdone, Brantley made a similar diving catch in right field but he had the gumption to jump up and throw a laser to first baseman Yuli Gurriel to catch New York baserunner Aaron Judge for the double play to end the top of the seventh inning.
“This is what we play for. We believe in each other,” said Brantley. “It was a big homer by them but to answer in the next inning and go to the World Series, I can’t find the words.”
Gurriel smashed a three run homer in the first inning to open the scoring and the Astros also turned a double play to end the top half of the eighth inning and preserve a two run lead.
Houston starter Brad Peacock pitched 1 2/3 innings giving up two hits and one run before the relievers took over. The bullpen kept New York in check until LeMahieu tied it in the ninth with a two-run homer to right field.
It’s the third time the Astros have eliminated New York in the past five playoffs.
Houston won the 2015 wild-card game in New York and eliminated the Yankees in seven games in the 2017 ALCS before winning their first title.
Yankees starting pitcher Chad Green lasted just one inning after he surrendered the home run to Gurriel. Green allowed two hits and three runs, walking one.
First baseman LeMahieu won a 10-pitch clash, which included fouling off four two-strike pitches.
When Astros closer Roberto Osuna left a pitch over the middle of the plate, LeMahieu drilled it 351 feet the opposite way just over the right field fence for a game-tying home run that silenced the crowd.
The Yankees have now lost four straight AL Championship Series.
“It is as painful as it can be in sports,” Boone said. “We know we are going to get to the top of the mountain. And we are going to have the battle scars to prove it.”