The Astros did their homework and were determined to reap the rewards.
All year, opposing hitters across the sport knew Twins ace Sonny Gray’s sweeper was an unhittable pitch. Houston’s game plan Tuesday was clear as soon as the first inning: attack the sweeper and remove that edge. It helped, then, that Gray couldn’t execute his best asset when it mattered most.
The Astros put this one away early with a 9-1 win in Game 3 of the American League Division Series. The Twins, unable to capitalize on their chances, are on the brink of elimination at Target Field.
Here’s more from Houston’s series-altering win.
What we’ll remember
José Abreu’s first postseason home run since Game 1 of the White Sox’s 2020 wild-card game against the A’s. The Astros’ lineup built pressure and traffic against Gray in the first inning, with leadoff man José Altuve ripping a single, Yordan Álvarez reaching on an error and Kyle Tucker collecting an RBI single. Abreu, presented with the chance to suck the spirit out of the home crowd, didn’t miss.
He crushed Gray’s sweeper — which looked more like an 84 mph meatball — 442 feet to left field for a jolting three-run blast. The instant 4-0 lead was a merciless reminder that the Astros are used to wrecking havoc on the road. Abreu added another blast in the ninth — a two-run shot this time — as a bonus, finishing the day with two homers and five RBIs.
An honorable mention goes to Álvarez for his fourth home run in three playoff games. The man can crush dingers like no one else in the game right now. He added two doubles and was originally awarded one in the first before it was changed to an error. We will remember his postseason exploits for a long, long time.
The Astros rough up Sonny Gray in four-run first inning
Game 3 MVP
Astros starter Cristian Javier. The last time the 26-year-old took the mound for a postseason start, he was no-hitting the Phillies in Game 4 of the World Series at the turbulent Citizens Bank Park — and with Houston trailing two games to one. So, he’s no stranger to stepping up for the Astros in make-or-break moments.
On Tuesday, Javier limited the Twins to one hit — one! — over five innings and registered nine strikeouts along the way. Though Javier allowed traffic in all but one of his five frames, he was composed and in control the entire outing. His signature moment arrived in the fifth inning, when he escaped a bases-loaded jam with a pair of strikeouts against the heart of the Twins’ order. The right-hander froze Max Kepler on a knuckle curve and got Minnesota’s hot-hitting rookie Royce Lewis to chase a bouncing slider. This was a critical, pendulum-swinging Game 3, and Javier wasn’t messing around.
Astros’ Cristian Javier racks up nine strikeouts through six innings
Inside the box score
The Twins really weren’t as out of the game as the final score would suggest. In reality, they were one or two big hits away from mounting a lead over the Astros. But, mirroring their weakness in Game 1 of the ALDS, Minnesota again struggled to capitalize on opportunities. The Twins went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position Tuesday, including 0-for-7 to start the game. Despite crowding the bases — they drew seven free passes — all those walks didn’t result in runs.
Twins fans, for their part, tried to keep the positivity going by chanting down the pitch clock in an effort to rattle Javier. What Minnesota really needed, however, was timely hitting. This has quietly been a problem all series. The club is hitting .148 (4-for-27) with RISP in the ALDS.
What surprised us?
Gray’s subpar sweeper. The guy threw 576 of them in the regular season and not one of them resulted in a home run. But on Tuesday, Gray made multiple mistakes with his first-class pitch. Instead of the typical swing and miss he was used to producing, Gray’s sweeper fell flat in the middle of the zone with little to no horizontal cut. And the Astros are certainly not a team you can afford to make mistakes against.
Both Abreu and Alex Bregman launched home runs off Gray’s sweeper. Opposing batters slugged just .118 against the pitch this season, the lowest mark for any MLB pitcher with any pitch. The Twins simply couldn’t afford for Gray to stumble at home in Game 3. Their October road ahead is now that much tougher, if not soon coming to an end.
Yordan Álvarez and José Abreu both crush homers in the ninth
Right-hander Joe Ryan (11-10, 4.51 ERA) will try to extend Minnesota’s season in a do-or-die Game 4 on Wednesday at Target Field (FOX, 2:07 p.m. ET or 6:07 p.m. ET). He will be up against Houston righty Jose Urquidy. The Astros were trying to avoid pitching Justin Verlander on three days rest, which would’ve been difficult to avoid had they entered Game 4 down 2-1 in the series. Now, they can comfortably save Verlander for a potential Game 5 (or Game 1 of the ALCS).
It will be interesting to see how Carlos Correa’s Twins respond to getting pounded on their own turf. Houston’s bats were slow to start the series, but Tuesday looked to be a get-right game with contributions from up and down this deep lineup. Do the AL Central champs even have the offensive firepower to keep up with Houston’s potential onslaught? Minnesota has excelled at creating chances, only to not cash in with the big hit. As tough as that task has already been for the Twins, the defending champions won’t make it easy on them when they’re just one win from advancing.
Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.
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