The Houston Astros, the butt of every baseball joke just a few years ago, are going to the World Series. There are a lot of reasons for this. They had to lose so many games that they were able to draft Carlos Correa before anyone else. They had to scout, secure, and develop Jose Altuve. Charlie Morton had to go to the 97-mph-fastball store and get him a 97-mph fastball. Someone had to teach Lance McCullers, Jr. his curveball, and someone else had to have the confidence that led to him throwing 24 of them in a row to finish his four-out save. Justin Verlander’s parents had to meet each other.
It’s a long, long list.
What I’ll remember from Game 7 of the ALCS is the play. Or, The Play. The dumb, daring, brilliantly executed play that changed everything. You don’t have to believe this is why the Astros are going to the World Series. This is why I believe the Astros are going to the World Series.
The Astros won by four runs, and that was just one run. Stop trying to force narratives down our throats, you dumb baseball writer. Sheesh.
Hold on, though. Let me advocate for this play. Let me state my case for why this play is what got the Astros to their second World Series in franchise history.
Start at the beginning. The Astros were the best offensive team in the land until they were the worst offensive team in the land, and they started gripping their bats like they were trying to extract a thick, viscous bat milk from them. They couldn’t get a hit with runners in scoring position. They couldn’t get a hit. They went nearly three games without getting two hits in the same inning, and it was wearing on them.
Then Evan Gattis hit a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth to put the Astros up by one. The early run was cathartic, and it offered hope, but it was just one run. Todd Frazier got three runs with a flick of his wrist earlier in the series. With the way the Astros’ bullpen had struggled, with the outing that Morton had in Game 3 of the series, there was no way to feel comfortable with just one run.
In the top of the fifth inning, Greg Bird led off with a double. Then there was a walk and a wild pitch on the same play, putting runners on first and third with one out. The Astros had wandered the desert of offensive futility for days, finally finding a teeny tiny oasis with a lone dinger, and the Yankees were about to match it with a double, a wild pitch, and an out. Just one medium-deep fly ball was going to be enough to tie the game.
One grounder was going to be enough to tie the game. And when that grounder tied the game, there would still be runners on base with just one out. The foundation would tremble. A couple shingles would fall off the roof. The bullpen would stir, but there wouldn’t be anyone overflowing with confidence in there. That one, lonely home run wasn’t any match for the Yankees’ continuous onslaught.
That’s the backdrop for The Throw. Or, The Play. Or, as I like to call it, The Holy Hell What Are You Doing, Alex Bre gman, Ha Ha, Just Kidding, You Beautiful Bastard Play.
When Bregman fielded the ball awkwardly like that, the runner was halfway to home. I don’t care if the runner is Greg Bird, Yadier Molina, or Bartolo Colon doing cartwheels. The Astros needed outs. They needed to stay out of the big inning. It stunk that a wild pitch got the tying run to third with just one out, but that was the past. The future was keeping the game close. Bregman threw home anyway.
He threw it there. HE THREW IT THERE.
It had to be a perfect throw, and I know you’ve heard that before about different plays during a long 162-game season, but this one really had to be perfect. It had to be a throw that allowed Brian McCann to tag the runner without really making a tag. Javier Baez wouldn’t have been able to slap a tag down quick enough on this play. The throw had to be its own tag, in other words.
It was, I feel comfortable writing, a horrible decision. The threat of the big inning was far more real than the odds of Bregman contorting his body to make a perfect throw on the run. He’s had an eye-opening defensive postseason, but I wouldn’t want Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado, or Adrian Beltre making that throw. No third baseman is perfect on command like that. Take the out. Take the out, you dummy.
But it worked. The risk paid off, and it was just about the baseballiest thing I can imagine. It was skill, and it was dumb luck, but it was more skill than dumb luck, but it was still some of both, and it ... it was baseball. Think of the cocktail of unlikely and obvious, the ability to bullseye womp rats at home plate from his T-16 back home, but paired with the risk. It was so reckless, so dumb, so beautiful. It was much more satisfying than a big man hitting a fastball far with his large stick.
The other part of this play’s artistry came with Brian McCann, who had to catch the thing and hold onto it with metal spikes sliding into his ulnar artery. It wasn’t enough that Bregman’s throw was perfect, like it was going to pop the balloon in the clown’s mouth at a carnival. There still had to be a catch and a tag, and it was executed perfectly. Compare this play with Gary Sanchez being unable to catch a baseball in the ninth inning of Game 2 without spikes threatening his livelihood.
I’ve watched the play about 30 times now, and I don’t have an answer for if Bregman’s throw was a good play. It seems like the kind of play that ends up backfiring nine times out of 10. It’s the fielding equivalent of sending Alex Gordon in the ninth inning of Game 7 in 2014. There were so many ways it could have ended up wrong.
But I have an answer as to Bregman’s throw being a great play. It most certainly was. It was pure abandon, and in retrospect, it seems so obvious. The Yankees were going to seize momentum right after the Astros got a lonely run, and it was going to sting. Charlie Morton was going to be knocked out of the game, and then Will Harris or someone was going to come in, and maybe it would work, or maybe it wouldn’t, but the Yankees would smell the Astros’ weakness, and it was going to end quickly and/or painfully.
Except Alex Bregman decided to throw home, and he made one of the best throws you’ll ever see. Because of that throw, the Astros are going to the World Series. I’m convinced of that. You don’t have to be, but it’s a lot more fun over here.
The Astros are going to the World Series for a lot of reasons. George Springer lasting 11 picks in the draft. Marwin Gonzalez developing into a secret-not-secret weapon. The Blue Jays drafting Egan Smith a pick ahead of Dallas Keuchel. Bregman’s throw was one of these reasons, except it happened after all those other dominos fell. It was a perfectly awful decision unless it was a perfect throw, which it was. It was baseball perfection, for all the right and wrong reasons.
And if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch it another 30 times.