Morton, McCullers Blank Yanks, Reach World Series
Gattis, Altuve Start 4-0 Party With Homers

Altuve is carried off the field
(c) Associated Press
The Houston Astros have a record that may never be matched - the only franchise to win a league championship in both leagues. Yes, the Houston Astros, who won an NL pennant only once in their first 43 years, took only five years to master the American League. With Saturday night's 4-0 whitewash of the Yankees, the Astros won their first A.L.C.S. and now advance to the World Series to face an old nemesis.

Neither the Arizona Diamondbacks nor the Chicago Cubs gave the Los Angeles Dodgers much to stress over, meanwhile the Astros are now pressure-tested. We'll see how that dynamic affects the Fall Classic which begins Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium.

Most handicappers gave New York the advantage in Game 7 with veteran lefty C.C. Sabathia, 10-0 in games after Yankee losses, on the mound. Houston went with Charlie Morton who lost to Sabathia in Game 3. The Astros put runners on in the first three innings but failed to score.

In the fourth, Evan Gattis fouled off three straight pitches then hammered a slider over the yellow stripe in left for a solo homer to give Houston the lead. Sabathia was pulled with two on in the fourth before Tommy Kahnle coaxed a double play grounder from George Springer.

In the fifth, Morton got into a jam that started when Greg Bird doubled. He advanced to third on a wild pitch. With one out, Todd Frazier tapped to third baseman Alex Bregman who threw home and nailed Bird in a bang-bang collision at the plate with Brian McCann. Morton retired Chase Headley to keep the shutout intact.

Morton got the Game 7 victory with five innings of two-hit shutout ball with one walk and five strikeouts.

With one out in the home half of the fifth, Jose Altuve launched a homer into the right field seats, just beyond the reach of Aaron Judge who had taken a similar hit away from Yuli Gurriel in the second.

Carlos Correa and Gurriel both singled to keep the rally going. After Gattis whiffed, McCann yanked a double into the right field corner that upped the lead to 4-0. Fans sensed the night would be theirs.

Still, there was the shaky bullpen to consider and the Game 4 meltdown that turned a 4-0 lead into a 6-4 loss. Houston sports fans remember this and a dozen other times a Houston club lost when victory seemed right in their grasp.

Manager A.J. Hinch turned to Game 4 victim Lance McCullers to get through the middle innings. After an easy sixth, McCullers seemed to lose some poise in the seventh before gathering himself and shutting the Yankees down. His curve worked so well that Hinch eschewed turning the game over to Will Harris or Ken Giles and just let McCullers close for himself, notching the first save of his big league career.

McCullers whiffed the first two Yankees in the ninth and when Bird lifted a high fly to center that nestled gently into Springer's mitt for the final out, pandemonium ensued.

Basically, Game 7 was an artistic success for the Astros. They made every play they needed to in the field, came up with every big pitch and worked the counts to their advantage at the plate. The Yankees' season ended with just three hits on the night while striking out eleven times.

Justin Verlander, who was the winning pitcher of Games 2 and 6, was named the A.L.C.S. Most Valuable Player.

The team and their city have two days to celebrate before the first pitch in LaLaLand commences. The first order of business is to win a World Series game, something the 2005 squad could not do. Then, hopefully, they will bring home the first Worlds Championship on Texas soil. It won't be easy. The Dodgers never are. But with so many starting pitchers seemingly firing on all cylinders, Houston has a chance and a chance is all they ask.

- Bob Hulsey