WASHINGTON (AP) — Astros manager AJ Hinch had so little faith in Robinson Chirinos’ bat that he pinch hit for the catcher in a big spot early in the World Series.
Seems unlikely he’d do it again.
Chirinos has homered in consecutive games, emerging as a most unlikely slugger for Houston when the team needed it most. A night after cracking a solo shot off the left field foul pole, Chirinos crushed a two-run drive to the seats nearby Saturday as the Astros beat the Washington Nationals 8-1 to tie the World Series at two games apiece.
“I put myself in a good position,” Chirinos said. “I was swinging at strikes. I was staying to the middle of the plate, to the middle of the field, and I did it again tonight.”
Hinch credited Chirinos for his role behind the dish helping rookie starter José Urquidy — and his big bat at it.
“Any time there’s a good pitching outing, you’ve got to credit the catcher for getting him through a few situations and just calming him down from the very beginning,” Hinch said. “(Plus) he hit the two-run homer, huge for us.”
Chirinos slugged 17 home runs this season but showed no pop in the AL Championship Series. He went 0 for 15 in six games against the New York Yankees, and it wasn’t much of a surprise when Hinch pulled him for Kyle Tucker with two on and two outs in the sixth inning of World Series Game 2.
Tucker struck out, backup catcher Martín Maldonado oversaw Houston’s seventh-inning meltdown, and the team flew to Washington trailing 2-0. Chirinos said players talked on the flight about keeping it simple and not trying to do too much.
“No swings for the fence,” Chirinos said.
Maybe he wasn’t trying to go deep, but Chirinos hit Houston’s only home run in a 4-1 Game 3 victory Friday and got to celebrate it with his son , David. He told his dad, “Nice job, good swing,” and Hinch got the feeling Chirinos was starting to break out.
The 35-year-old showed it with a two-run blast off starter Patrick Corbin in the fourth inning of Game 4 that stunned a sellout crowd of almost 44,000. That made it 4-0, which was plenty of offense to support Urquidy’s five scoreless innings before Hinch went to the bullpen.
Chirinos injured his ankle during his at-bat in the ninth but stayed in the game and doubled off reliever Javy Guerra. He said he was fine — “nothing to worry about.”
Calling pitches in the World Series is a demanding gig. Chirinos estimates he has spent at least eight hours watching film of Nationals hitters this week, and pitchers recognize his level of commitment.
“You just trust him,” reliever Brad Peacock said. “He’s here before everybody else. He’s studied video and just been amazing all year. That’s what you need to do. It helps us out big time.”
Chirinos is finding time to fine-tune his sweet swing, too. After joining the Astros on a $5.75 million, one-year contract to play for a championship contender in the twilight of his career, Chirinos has been working with hitting coach Alex Cintrón to hone aspects of his approach and mechanics.
“I’m working so hard in the cage to be consistent and make sure I put a good swing into a ball,” Chirinos said. “I’m proud to help my team win. In the end, you can hit homers and you don’t win a game, it don’t mean anything, especially in this kind of game. Thank God I was able to help my team win.”
Houston won and became the second team and first since 1962 to have two different catchers — Chirinos and Maldonado — hit a home run in the World Series, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Chirinos will get a break Sunday so ace Gerrit Cole can throw to his regular catcher, Maldonado, but could be available for another big hit off the bench.
Just being in this spot is a major victory for the Venezuelan catcher who languished in the minors most of his 20s before becoming a major leaguer with the Texas Rangers. Just the thought of his journey to the World Series brought a big smile to Chirinos’ face.
“Not many people have the opportunity to play in the World Series,” he said. “Everything I went through, it made me the player I am right now. … A better teammate, a better person and the player who I am right now.”
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