Astros insider: How A.J. Hinch won the chess match with Aaron Boone
After 4 hours, 49 minutes, the four position player substitutions, 15 pitchers, 85 plate appearances and 355 pitches ended with Astros shortstop Carlos Correa's walk-off, series-tying home run to beat the Yankees 3-2 in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
It was a contest arguably loaded with more than 450 decisions - if you count the way team's game-plan every pitch they want their pitchers to throw - that cornered New York in the bottom of the 11th inning.
"As you start to get towards the end of, we're both counting the number of pitchers we have left and how we're going to maximize those guys," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
Down to their ninth pitcher, the Yankees had to get through Correa if they were to find a way to win, and they could not get a pitch past him.
Whether it could be deemed a managerial chess match or sheer attrition, Hinch finished with the winning moves.
"This was an epic game in the playoffs with everything on the line," Hinch said. "Fun game to win."
Both managers anticipated the fusillade of pitches and dwindling armaments. Hinch assumed that his counterpart, Aaron Boone, guided the Yankees bullpen with the same matchup extremism that the Tampa Bay Rays used in the Division Series against Houston.
"They're carrying the extra pitcher (on their roster), so you know they have the opportunity to do just about anything they want," Hinch said. "I'm sure they watched closely what Tampa did in the first series, and that was a little bit similar to how they did it and their guys came in and there was one guy after another."
Once Boone lifted Yankees starter James Paxton in the third inning, a game within the game began between the managers.
"Once they start to go to their pen," Hinch said, "if you can kind of put some pressure on them and you get some matchups in your favor, they're going to continue to make those moves."
Ten of the 15 pitchers did not allow a hit. Even when they were unblemished, such as Chad Green's retiring the six batters he faced, pitchers did not supersede whatever logic encouraged the managers to bring new arms. Astros ace Justin Verlander inspired some extra urgency in Boone.
"We usually play it like that most all the time," Boone said. "Certainly Verlander being on the hill, runs are going to be tough to come by. More often than not, I'm going to play that really aggressively."
Boone looked somewhat foolish when he swapped Green for Adam Ottavino, who gave up a a first-pitch, game-tying home run to George Springer.
"George Springer's swing off of Ottavino kind of got energy back in our dugout," Hinch said.
Five scoreless innings of fruitless at-bats followed.
To get the six outs that spanned the bottom of the 10th and top of the 11th, each team called on three relievers. The Yankees book-ended with lefties and the Astros narrowly escaped their worst jam of the night because of Josh James.
"You're playing it to win the game," Boone said. "You're not playing it to, 'What if we go 13?' You know? You're playing it to what gives us the best chance to win here."
James was Hinch's final move. The flame-throwing righthander would earn the victory, but he deserved a save, too for his 11th-inning heroics.
James inherited two runners and two outs. He had to bail out Ryan Pressly, who'd given up a single to the only batter he faced.
In that moment of the game, one out is all Hinch wanted from James. Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez - burned into these Astros' minds for his tide-shifting, two-RBI double in Game 4 of the 2017 ALCS that would split the series and follow with the Yankees taking a series lead the next day - came to bat.
"We know Sanchez is a guy that chases with two strikes," catcher Robinson Chirinos said.
But Sanchez did not go down quickly. He figured out that Houston wanted to pitch him away. He crept up on the plate. He fouled off eight of the first nine pitches James threw.
"He was on everything," James said.
James had shown Sanchez nothing slower than 97.6 mph, until he doubled up on sliders and came back with a 99.3 mph fastball - all of which Sanchez managed to deflect.
One of the foul balls clocked Chirinos in the mask. The catcher made a mound visit to collect himself and James.
"We're gonna throw a slider," he told James. "Make sure it's down. Bounce it. I'm gonna block it."
That's exactly what James did.
"He did it," Chirinos said, his eyes wide. "I thought it was strike three."
It was, but home plate umpire Cory Blaser called it a foul ball. Video replays on TV showed Sanchez was not close to making contact with the breaking pitch in the dirt.
The game between Boone and Hinch suddenly had some undeniable interference.
Blaser took the feat away from James.
"It's tough, especially when you think you struck him out," James said. "Can't do anything about it. It's just about refocusing. Move on."
James fired a 99-mph heater near the outer edge of the zone. It looked off the plate, but Blaser rose up and delivered an emphatic punch-out to signal strike three.
"It was close," Chirinos said. "It was maybe on the black. I don't know what (James) was thinking, but thank god we struck Sanchez out. He put a good at-bat together."
It seemed like a make-up call from Blaser. It righted the managerial match.
Boone had used lefthander J.A. Happ to finish the 10th and sent the veteran back out for the 11th, despite the righthanded hitters due up.
Entering the final at-bat, Correa had been 5-for-11 with a homer and a 1.227 OPS off Happ.
"And the bottom line is we end up giving up a third run in the 11th inning," Boone said. "I'd say from a run prevention standpoint it went pretty well."
Hinch, understandably, saw how things swung in Houston's direction.
"When Happ comes in, we know we're going to have some favorable platoon matchups," Hinch said. "That doesn't always make it right.
"I manage my team, he manages his team. And you try not to run out of players, try not to run out of pitching, but most importantly you just try to win the game."
Astros manager AJ Hinch on Wednesday announced the team's pitching rotation for the ALDS against the Rays, with Justin Verlander tabbed for Game 1, Gerrit Cole slated for
More News in Houston
This is what the Astros do in this golden era. They create instant magic in the 11th inning of a slow, weird game that is approaching the official five-hour mark and midnight on your watch. They stun
Carlos Correa hit a leadoff home run in the 11th inning and the Houston Astros won a battle of the bullpens, beating the New York Yankees 3-2 Sunday night to tie the AL Championship
HOUSTON -- A man in the Astros dugout who was not in uniform was hit by a foul ball off the bat of Houston's Michael Brantley during Game 2 of the AL Championship Series
HOUSTON -- A man in the Houston Astros dugout who was not in uniform was hit by a foul ball off the bat of Houston's Michael Brantley during Game 2 of the AL Championship Series
He wasn't enjoying the greatest postseason entering Sunday night. Still, that's never stopped George Springer from delivering in a key spot for the Astros. The center fielder who's the franchise's fulcrum came through once again during the