The long, great moment that began last October, with the last World Series, continues in baseball. So much of this has to do with the young talent in the game, more young talent, all over the map, than the game has had in its history, from Aaron “All Rise” Judge to Jose Altuve — the difference in size makes you remember the time when Steve Nash was the MVP of the NBA and Shaq was runner-up — to Bryce Harper, from Carlos Correa to Corey Seager to the firm of Rizzo and Bryant in Chicago. And, with all due respect to Altuve, that is just the short list.
And there is a freshness about it all, making the game feel new all over again, with so much of October’s story still left to be written. So it figures that the Houston Astros, who still feel so new to the American League, have a chance to do something fresh that no team has ever done in postseason history:
Beat the Red Sox and the Yankees in the same October.
The 1998 Indians beat the Red Sox in a Division Series, then lost to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. The 2007 Indians beat the Yankees in the Division Series, then lost to the Red Sox in seven games in the ALCS, one of the reasons being that when they were ahead three games to one in Cleveland, CC Sabathia didn’t pitch nearly as well for his old team that night as he did against his old team in Game 5 of the ALDS on Wednesday night.
In 2009, the Angels beat the Red Sox in a Division Series, then lost to the Yankees in the ALCS. So there have been other chances to go through those two teams in the same month, all that history. Nobody has ever made it. Now the Astros, who are even more fun to watch right now than the Yankees are — and that is saying plenty — get their chance to make an iconic run through both iconic franchises.
And guess what? Even if they do beat the Yankees in the ALCS that starts Friday night, the Astros might have one more iconic franchise — the Dodgers, with all of their history, on two coasts — waiting for them in the World Series.
The postseason of 2017 simply continues to get better and better, every single day and night, and that means even before the Cubs and Nationals get to Game 5, and finally finish off what has been such a rousing and dramatic and compelling first round, in Boston and Houston, New York and Cleveland, Chicago and Washington, LA and Phoenix, part of a dream baseball map.
The week began with the Yankees staying alive in their series against the Indians because “All Rise” Judge rose up on Sunday and took a two-run homer away from Frankie Lindor that would have effectively ended that series and the Yankees season before it got anywhere near Houston. Then Greg Bird hit one and Aroldis Chapman got the last five outs and the Yankees won, 1-0. Won another night. Won Game 4. Then went into Cleveland for Game 5 and beat a team that had won 35 of its past 39 games. Didi Gregorius hit a first-inning home run off Corey Kluber, same as he hit a first-inning home run to get the Yankees right back into their AL Wild Card Game against the Twins. Then Gregorius hit a two-run shot off Kluber.
Sabathia was so brilliant into the fifth inning, as if he’d forgotten what year it was. Then he faded fast and the Indians came back, just as fast, to make it 3-2. Two on, one out. David Robertson, one of the few Yankees who was around when the Yankees last won it all back in 2009, who came back to the Yankees in July, came out of the bullpen to get Lindor to hit into a double play. The Indians will score their next run next season. People are always going to remember the home run swings that Gregorius has made so far this October. The Yankees’ MVP in the six games the team has played, including the Wild Card Game, is David Robertson.
Robertson has pitched eight innings in the postseason, struck out 10, given up one run. He came out of the bullpen in the Wild Card Game against the Twins, pitched brilliantly over 3 1/3 innings, got the win. Got the win in Game 5. Knew enough to pull his glove back and let somebody else field Lindor’s grounder in the bottom of the fifth.
“You see a ball coming back at you, your first response is to protect yourself, whether it’s hit hard or not,” Robertson said.
His lasting response was protecting another lead. The only time he didn’t do it was in the eighth inning of Game 2, when he gave up the home run to Jay Bruce that tied the game at eight. So Robertson is a huge part of this bullpen October in baseball. David Price gave the Red Sox four innings out of the bullpen in Game 3 against the Astros, when the Red Sox were keeping their season alive, if only until the next day. The next day, of course, we saw both Justin Verlander and Chris Sale come out of the bullpens for their teams. Verlander, in a blink, gave up a home run to Andrew Benintendi and the Red Sox had the lead. The Astros came back against Sale later. So Verlander got the win as the Astros closed out the Red Sox. So Verlander still hasn’t lost for the Astros. He was 2-0 against the Red Sox. Now he goes up against the Yankees, whom he sure does know from other Octobers, when he was still with the Tigers.
But it has been starters, too, who have produced crackling performances. Stephen Strasburg, whom we were told might be too ill to pitch Game 4 for the Nationals, did in fact show up at Wrigley Field. Man, oh man, did he show up, to produce what is the seminal pitching moment of his career, in what was — for now — the great October moment for the Washington Nationals. One hundred and six pitches for Strasburg on a “Wuthering Heights” day at Wrigley. Twelve strikeouts. The champions of the world never had a chance against him. No one playing would have had a chance against Strasburg at Wrigley on Wednesday.
“It was a challenge,” Strasburg said when it was over. “The [illness]I got sucked the life out of me every single day, and the antibiotics didn’t touch it. [Tuesday] we switched [medicine]and it kicked in. I wouldn’t say great, but better.”
Didn’t feel great. Was great. The way this baseball October continues to be. We haven’t talked yet about the Dodgers, and the way they looked against the D-backs, which means the way they looked for so much of the baseball summer. People who watched Game 5 between the Yankees and Indians are still talking about Brett Gardner’s 12-pitch at-bat against Cody Allen in the top of the ninth, one that ended with the single that resulted in two more runs for the Yankees, stretching their lead from 3-2 to 5-2.
All of this happens before we get to either LCS. Before the first round is officially over. Baseball: Officially having a moment here.