Astros clinch to set up ALCS showdown in Texas

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 the Tampa Bay Rays in the wild-card series and the top-seeded Baltimore Orioles in the division series. The Astros and Rangers have never played one another in the postseason.

“They know us, and we know them,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said, “and it’s going to be a heck of a series.”

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 didn’t get it done in this series,” Baldelli said. “We got beat, but I couldn’t be happier with what I saw from so many of our guys, and I told them that.”

Astros center fielder Chas McCormick had said before the game that “we have to make sure we get an early lead and we don’t take the foot off the gas pedal,” 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 had the No. 2 seed only 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.

Justin Verlander, who returned to the Astros in August via trade from the New York Mets and is scheduled to make his 36th career postseason start in Game 1, led the clubhouse celebration Wednesday night at Baker’s behest.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the bond that we have and the relationships that we have in this locker room, and we hold each other accountable in a good way,” Verlander said. “Obviously, this team is built different. These guys are built different. When it’s time to step up, we play our best baseball.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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