NEW YORK -- The Houston Astros, who had a license to lose during a painful rebuilding process in which they finished 40 or more games out of first place in three straight seasons, beat baseball's ultimate winners, the New York Yankees 3-0 in the win-or-go-home American League wild-card game Tuesday night. The victory catapulted 2015's most surprising success story deeper into October.
Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez hit solo home runs off Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka, and American League hit leader Jose Altuve singled home a third run off relief stud Dellin Betances to send the Astros to the American League Division Series against Kansas City, champions of the AL Central and the team with the league's best record, beginning Thursday night.
Homegrown left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who looks as if he has been growing his House of David beard since the Astros' latest postseason appearance in 2005, gave a Cy Young Award-worthy performance on three days' rest by ignoring a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd of 50,113 to subdue the home team on three singles over six scoreless innings. Keuchel was the first pitcher to throw a scoreless outing on short rest since Josh Beckett eliminated the Yankees with a complete-game shutout in the final game of the 2003 World Series.
Keuchel's mettle was put to its greatest test in the sixth, when a leadoff single by Didi Gregorius and a two-out base hit by Carlos Beltran brought Alex Rodriguez to the plate with a chance to play postseason hero, a role that has eluded him for much of his career. A.J. Hinch, in his first season as Houston's manager, had Chad Qualls and Tony Sipp throwing in the bullpen. Hinch strode to the mound for a visit but kept the game in Keuchel's hands. The pitcher responded by retiring Rodriguez on a first-pitch, routine fly ball to center.
The Yankees failed to score against Keuchel in three starts this season, a span of 22 innings in which Keuchel struck out 28 batters (seven on Tuesday) while walking just two (one Tuesday).
Thumbs up: The final nine outs belonged to the Houston bullpen, a crew that had been knocked around in the season's last month, when they posted a 5.63 ERA, the highest in the league. The left-handed Sipp pitched a scoreless seventh, with his shining moment coming when he painted the black on a 3-and-2 fastball to Greg Bird with a man on first, then retired Rob Refsnyder to end the inning.
Thumbs down: Designated hitter Evan Gattis, who shredded the Yankees with six hits including three home runs when the Astros came here in August, was hitless in four trips, though Brett Gardner took extra bases away from him with a leaping catch in the second. Gattis will happily swap an 0-fer for the win.
What's next: Right-hander Collin McHugh, a 19-game winner in the regular season, figures to draw the Game 1 start against the Royals on Thursday in Kansas City.