HOUSTON -- The Astros are headed to the World Series for the third time in five years after yet another pitching gem, beating the Red Sox 5-0 in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night.
Houston won the final three games of the best-of-seven series to clinch it.
"They're all special," third baseman Alex Bregman said on the field as confetti fell after the game. "You can't take any of them for granted. It's been amazing to be part of this team and these guys. But I don't want to think about that right now. I want to think about winning a few more games."
Two nights after lefty Framber Valdez threw eight strong innings, rookie righty Luis Garcia was nearly as good, giving up just one hit over 5 2/3. He left after Kiké Hernandez hit a two-out triple in the sixth.
"Everybody was really happy because I did the job that they needed from me tonight," Garcia said. "And as far as being in the World Series, just really excited to be part of my first World Series. It's like a dream come true really."
The biggest moment of the game came in the top of the seventh with two on and one out for the Red Sox, who were down 2-0. Facing reliever Kendall Graveman, pinch hitter Travis Shaw struck out on a 3-2 pitch as Alex Verdugo took off from first base. Astros catcher Martin Maldonado threw Verdugo out as Minute Maid Park erupted for the strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play.
Graveman said it was actually the 3-1 pitch to Verdugo that was the game-changer for him.
"For me, to throw a changeup, one I hadn't thrown in three months, and to locate it and execute it [for a strike], that ranks as one of my better pitches I've thrown in my career," Graveman said. "That set up the fastball up.
"Then Maldi [Maldonado] probably threw it faster to second than I did to the plate."
The crowd erupted again an inning later when Kyle Tucker put an exclamation mark on the night with a three-run, opposite-field homer.
"This group of guys has been a big part of my life," Tucker said. "We focus on baseball and the personal bond with each other. We're a family. We have each other's backs whether that's on the field or off the field."
The hitting star of the series was Astros designated hitter Yordan Alvarez, who had two doubles, a triple and a single in Game 6. Alvarez, who was named ALCS MVP, drove in a run and scored twice as he hit .522 over the six games. His 12 hits are tied for the most in a playoff series in franchise history, and his seven opposite-field hits are tied for the most by any player in a postseason series over the past 15 seasons.
The award comes after Alvarez had surgery on both knees last year.
"It means everything," Alvarez said through an interpreter of winning MVP. "I didn't really imagine myself being able to come out of that surgery on both knees and be able to do this as quickly as I did."
The Astros have scored 45 two-out runs in the playoffs, the most in a postseason for a team before the World Series, and their 27 two-out runs in the ALCS are the most in a single playoff series in major league history. But the key to the victory was Houston's dramatic turnaround on the mound. After giving up 25 runs in the first three games, while dropping two of them, Astros pitchers allowed just three runs in the final three games.
"We had a meeting after Game 3, talking about how last year we were down 3-0 and came back," Maldonado said.
Garcia was just the latest to dominate. He made a mechanical adjustment after leaving his last start with knee discomfort, and the results were astounding. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Garcia threw 44 pitches 95 mph or harder, the most in any game in his career. His previous high was 16, accomplished in last year's postseason.
"We made a slight adjustment with the lower half of his body," pitching coach Brent Strom said. "We put his heel first [on the pitching rubber]. It allowed him to stay strong on his back leg. It was by necessity because his knee was bothering him, and to take the pain off the knee, we made an adjustment with the lower half. That helped with the velocity."
The win returns Astros manager Dusty Baker to the Fall Classic for the first time since 2002. The 18 seasons between World Series appearances is the second most behind Bucky Harris, who went 21 years apart.
"I said a prayer to my dad and to Hank Aaron, and Al Kaline and Joe Morgan and Bob Watson and all my partners that are in Heaven," Baker said. "I thought about Jimmy Wynn and especially guys that have been in this organization. Some of them didn't get to this point. I felt that they were with us."
Baker was hired in 2020 as a steady hand after the team was rocked by a sign-stealing scandal that cost their former manager and general manager their jobs.
Some players, like Bregman, second baseman Jose Altuve and shortstop Carlos Correa, were with the team when the sign stealing occurred. It forced owner Jim Crane to reset his organization.
"It's brought up every day, so you have to see it, but I think it's behind us," Crane said of the scandal. "I think we proved that tonight. They're great players, and great players win championships."
Crane goes back to the decision to hire Baker as the start of putting that scandal in the rearview mirror. His contract is up after this season, but Crane indicated his desire to have the 72 year-old return.
"I sat and talked to him for two hours [back in 2020]. I thought he was my best friend and made my decision right there on the spot," Crane said. "I don't think there's any reason why we wouldn't visit about it after the World Series. I love Dusty."
The Astros will face either the Los Angeles Dodgers or Atlanta Braves, who play Game 6 of their series Saturday. Atlanta leads 3-2. If the Braves win the series, Houston will get home-field advantage with Game 1 set for Tuesday. Otherwise, the series will open in Los Angeles.