The Houston Astros hold a 2-0 American League Championship Series lead over the New York Yankees after a pair of 2-1 victories. They’ve done the little things, the winning things, the undefinable things. And if that sentence strikes you as empty baseball speak, let me rephrase.
The Astros apply pressure. Pressure breaks pipes.
Houston’s brought the fight to New York instead of waiting for it to come to them. They haven’t fallen into the traps favorites so often stumble into. There is no complacency.
Consider Saturday afternoon’s game. Justin Verlander, the Astros’ prized late-season addition, was his vintage self. The battle-tested veteran tossed a complete game with 13 strikeouts. Ninety-three of his 124 pitches were strikes, which is borderline ridiculous — and slightly worse than a well-calibrated pitching machine.
Strikes are pressure. When a pitcher throws them, the batter’s approach changes. Strikes are alpha. Reacting is beta. Verlander’s masterful display sped the game up and forced the Yankees to counterpunch, not dictate the action.
Jose Altuve, the future MVP, scored the game-winning run in the ninth inning, racing home from first base on a Carlos Correa double. Altuve had no business trying to score. But he raced home, forcing shortstop Didi Gregorius to throw home.
And it worked. Gregorius, pestered by a sliding Correa, bounced his relay and Altuve slid in safe.
Pressure. When applied liberally, mistakes happen. The Yankees are simply making a few more than the Astros through two games and most have been forced.
That’s no accident.