MINNEAPOLIS — The Battle of Texas is on.
One day after the Texas Rangers locked down a spot in the American League Championship Series, the Houston Astros clinched their seventh consecutive ALCS bid with a 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins to win their division series 3-1.
The Astros relied on the formula that has brought them so much postseason success in recent years, including during their World Series championship last year: home runs and pitching. Jose Abreu, their prized free agent signing over the winter, hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning to put the Astros ahead 3-1, and starter Jose Urquidy, followed by relievers Hector Neris, Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly, shut down a dangerous Twins lineup to secure a record-extending ALCS appearance.
The Astros will face a Rangers team that is surging after sweeping Tampa Bay in the wild-card series and top-seeded Baltimore in the division series. The Astros and Rangers have never played one another in the postseason.
Minnesota’s best, at a loud Target Field, wasn’t enough to oust Houston, which last lost a division series in 2015. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli emptied his bullpen, yanking starter Joe Ryan — who allowed a second-inning home run to Michael Brantley that countered Twins rookie Royce Lewis’ first-inning shot — after two innings.
“We have to make sure we get an early lead and we don’t take the foot off the gas pedal,” centerfielder Chas McCormick said before the game, and Abreu ensured that.
Left-hander Caleb Thielbar, summoned in the fourth to face a pocket of four hitters that included three lefties, was tagged by the lone right-hander, Abreu. Following a blowout Game 3 win in which he hammered a three-run home run in the first and ended the scoring with a massive shot in the ninth, Abreu illustrated again the depth of an Astros team that won 90 games and only had the No. 2 seed because the Rangers lost the season series to Houston 9-4 — and thus the tiebreaker to decide the division winner.
A sixth-inning home run by Twins rookie Edouard Julien chased Urquidy, who last pitched a dozen days ago but went 5⅔ strong, at one point striking out five consecutive Twins.
Neris followed with 1⅓ scoreless innings, Abreu extended his scoreless streak that reached back to July and Pressly — traded by the Twins to Houston in 2018 — finished the game by shutting down Minnesota’s Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters to send the Astros back to Houston, where they’ll host Game 1 of the ALCS on Sunday.
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