HOUSTON – Jose Altuve, the 5-foot-6 driving force of Houston, delivered a swing that will play in Astros’ highlights forever.
Altuve homered off Aroldis Chapman with two outs in the ninth inning and Houston outlasted the New York Yankees 6-4 Saturday night to advance to the World Series for the second time in three years.
In a bullpen game with a back-and-forth finish, DJ LeMahieu hit a tying, two-run shot off Astros closer Roberto Osuna in the top of the ninth inning.
Altuve answered with a two-run drive to left-center, setting off a wild celebration at Minute Maid Park and earning himself AL Championship Series most valuable player honors.
“Beautiful game,” Altuve said.
Astros ace Gerrit Cole was waiting to pitch a potential Game 7 on Sunday. Instead, the postseason star — undefeated since May 22 — can be lined up for Game 1 at home against the National League champion Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.
Yuli Gurriel hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and flashy outfield defense helped Houston’s relievers defeat the Yankees and their vaunted bullpen.
It almost fell apart in the ninth, though. Gio Urshela singled off Osuna leading off for his third hit of the game, and LeMahieu put a ball into the lower seats in right field — inches over the glove of leaping George Springer — to tie the score at 4.
Altuve, a sparkplug touted as Houston’s heart and soul, didn’t let this one get away.
“I get asked to describe Jose Altuve all the time,” Houston manager AJ Hinch said. “I think MVP is what he is.”
The teams combined to use 14 pitchers in a game that lasted 4 hours, 9 minutes.
Houston’s bullpen got a lift from the outfield defense. Right fielder Josh Reddick dived for Brett Gardner’s liner for the second out of the sixth. An inning later, left fielder Michael Brantley laid out for Aaron Hicks’ shallow floater and doubled off Aaron Judge at first base.
Gurriel, a holdover from Houston’s 2017 championship team, was 1 for 20 to start the ALCS before his drive in the first inning. He jumped all over a high-and-tight fastball from opener Chad Green.
It’s the third time Houston has eliminated New York in the past five postseasons. The Astros won the 2015 wild-card game in the Bronx and beat the Yankees in seven games in the 2017 ALCS before winning their first title.
“I feel like we are on equal footing with them,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Unfortunately, sports can be a little bit cruel for the team that goes home.”
Washington is seeking its first championship in the 51-season history of the Montreal Expos/Nationals franchise. The original Washington Senators won their only championship for the nation’s capital in 1924 and last reached the World Series in 1933 before becoming the Minnesota Twins for the 1961 season.
Gary Sanchez had an RBI single in the second and Urshela homered in the fourth for the Yankees.
Alex Bregman gave the Astros what looked like an insurance run with an RBI on a force out in the sixth inning.
Brantley’s double play elicited one of the loudest ovations of the night — before Altuve’s blast — from the sellout crowd of 43,357 that included Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan and Craig Biggio and NBA Rockets stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook, who watched from the front row in personalized orange Astros jerseys.
New York was 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position and 3 for 24 over the final five games of the series. The franchise lost its fourth straight ALCS after also falling in 2010, 2012 and 2017. The Yankees will go without a World Series appearance in a calendar decade for the first time since the 1910s.
“The season’s a failure,” Judge said. “I think about the missed opportunities.”