HOUSTON — In the eye of the swirling storm around them, there was calm. There always is. Two outs from punching their World Series ticket, the Houston Astros had just taken a punch. To lesser teams, it might have been a knockout blow.
DJ LeMahieu had just drilled a two-run homer, the desperate New York Yankees saw a crack of light, and now they were pushing to muscle their way in.
Tied game, bottom of the ninth, two out, and New York closer Aroldis Chapman breathing dragon fire and spitting 100 mph sliders. But he had made a mistake: He had lost George Springer. He had jumped ahead in the count with a strike-one slider, but then he couldn’t locate the plate. He had delivered four consecutive balls.
In the Houston dugout, two outfielders sat together, Josh Reddick and Michael Brantley. It was Brantley who had helped position the Astros for this moment two innings earlier, with a full-on diving catch in left field before scrambling to his feet and throwing a one-hop pea to double off Aaron Judge at first base and end the seventh with a fabulously artful and incredibly rare 7-3 double play.
Now the sea of orange was deafening in Minute Maid Park and Jose Altuve was at the plate and Reddick watched Chapman deliver ball one, and then ball two. It was then, 2 and 0 count, Chapman having thrown six consecutive balls, that Reddick calmly leaned over and declared to Brantley, “Josie’s going to win this game right here for us.”
On the mound, Chapman threw his first strike in seven offerings, a slider that sailed by Altuve for a called strike.
And then he threw another, this one 83 mph and high in the zone, and in a flash, Altuve unleashed a quick, violent swing that sent a laser into the night.
The ball’s landing was the anticlimactic part. By then, everyone knew this one was over and the Astros had slayed the Yankees. Again, for the second time in three seasons in this ballpark, this time 6-4 in a Game 6 that started slowly and then veered toward classic.
“He’s one of the best,” Springer was saying moments later, soaked with champagne, standing on the field amid family and the warm embrace of a city that cannot get enough of these Astros. “I know right there I have to do anything I can to get to first base, and I was able to.
“He can do special things. There’s nothing he can’t do. Incredible moment. Incredible swing. Unbelievable.”
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