Wild Card moment: Dallas Keuchel stays in, Alex Rodriguez flies out
It’s rare that a baseball game, postseason or otherwise, goes just like you think it might go. But damned if this one didn’t, with Cy Young candidate Dallas Keuchel running his shutout streak against the Yankees to 22 innings, and homer-prone Masahiro Tanaka giving up a couple of (solo) home runs in a 3-0 loss to the homer-happy Astros.
The Astros scored once against the Yankees’ bullpen in four innings, and the Yankees never mounted a serious threat against the Astros’ bullpen in three innings. So now here they are, with about as good a chance of winning as anybody.
Obviously, the hero of the American League’s Wild Card Game was Keuchel, who turned in one of the best postseason performances on short rest in recent memory. But Keuchel was hardly perfect.
In the sixth inning, he made fat pitches to Didi Gregorius and Carlos Beltrán, both of whom singled.
Which brought up cleanup hitter Alex Rodriguez.
Two runners on, two out, the Yankees trailing 2-0.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch visited the mound, and nobody should have been terribly shocked if Hinch had summoned right-hander Chad Qualls from the bullpen for what seemed, at the moment, like the biggest at-bat in the Astros’ biggest game in a long, long time.
After a long conference on the mound, Hinch and everyone else, including Keuchel, resumed their positions.
Later, Yankees manager Joe Girardi would say, “I thought that was gonna be the moment for us, the one that turned it around.”
You couldn’t blame Girardi for thinking that. Or anyone else who’s seen enough baseball or believed in their team or watched "The Natural" a dozen times. Baseball is made for moments, so we come to expect them. And this situation seemed well-made for some sort of moment.
Especially when the situation includes an 87-mph fastball — or cutter, if you prefer — heading straight for the heart of the strike zone. It was, in fact, the same sort of pitch that both Gregorius and Beltrán had already smacked for hits.
The difference was that Rodriguez missed his. Not by a lot, maybe. But enough so, instead of creating a moment, he created a routine flyball to center field. And extended his postseason streak with runners in scoring position to 19 straight hitless at-bats.
Should Rodriguez have taken a pitch, maybe waited for something better? Well, he probably wasn’t going to get anything better. And it’s not as if he’s some raw rookie, still trying to figure this thing out. This year, Rodriguez put the first pitch in play 59 times and batted .271 with nine extra-base hits and an 866 OPS that exceeded his overall mark.
There’s simply no reason to let a pitcher like Keuchel get ahead in the count with a pitch down the middle, since it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever see that pitch again. Unless you’re Tony Gwynn or Wade Boggs, you take a hack.
Rodriguez, one of the best hackers who’s ever hacked, took his hack. And missed. By a millimeter or two millimeters or three. It happens to the very best of them, so the fact that it happened to A-Rod tells us approximately nothing about his intestinal fortitude.
Millimeters. On such things, the fates of franchises can hang. And reputations.