By Simon Farber, Staff Reporter
The Houston Astros entered the 2015 season with the goal of small improvement. Before the season began, fans and analysts alike laughed at the idea of the Astros making the playoffs (see the responses to Taylor Swift Concert). To say the least, the laughing has ended. The Astros played to the tune of 86 wins, good enough for the second Wild-Card spot and a trip to Yankee Stadium to face the Yankees in a do-or-die playoff game. One huge reason for the Houston success was the breakout season of starting Pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who entered the game on just three days rest. Taking the ball for the Yankees was Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka.
Tanaka got the Yankees off to a fast start. He retired all three batters in the first, striking out both Jose Altuve and George Springer. After the Yanks went scoreless in the bottom of the first, Tanaka was back out on the mound looking for more. His first pitch of the inning was placed right over the heart of the plate, and Colby Rasmus put a beautiful swing on it. The ball sailed effortlessly over the right field wall, giving the Astros a 1-0 lead.
That was all they would need. Dallas Keuchel was as dominant as he’s been all season. Spanning six innings, Keuchel did not allow a run, giving up just three hits to Yankee hitters while striking out seven. Despite working on limited rest, the Astros’ ace was able to get through six full innings with just 87 pitches, giving the Astros a great chance to win without risking injury.
In the fourth inning, it was Carlos Gomez’s time to shine. He had been dealing with an injury earlier this week, but Astros manager AJ Hinch decided to give him the start in center field. When Gomez came to the plate to lead off the inning, he was looking for one pitch: something up in the zone that he could hit hard. Gomez got the high heater on the first pitch of the at bat, and he was all over it. Gomez took Tanaka’s fastball deep into the night, crushing the second postseason home run of his career. Tanaka would finish the fifth inning, but that would be all for him. He allowed two earned runs over the five full innings, both on solo home runs. He struck out three Astros hitters.
The Astros added an insurance run in the seventh on hit-machine Jose Altuve’s RBI single, scoring Jonathan Villar. Just three outs from an ALDS birth, Houston handed the ball to veteran closer Luke Gregerson. Facing the heart of the order, Gregerson retired Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, and Brian Mccann in consecutive order to clinch the AL Wild card and continue their shocking season as one of baseball’s best and most promising teams. Houston will travel to Kansas City on thursday to face the Royals in game one of the American League Division Series.