WASHINGTON — During his pregame news conference Saturday, Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch clarified his approach to his pitching staff in Game 4 of the World Series.
The plan had been categorized as a bullpen game, with rookie Jose Urquirdy believed to be the first of a series of Houston pitchers as the Astros strived to even their series with the Washington Nationals after losing the first two games at home. But that wasn’t how Hinch saw it.
“I don't even know if I want to call this a bullpen game,” Hinch said, “because Urquidy is a starter.”
Hinch then recalled how the previous game in which Urquirdy had pitched, doing so as a reliever in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees, was also a bullpen game, and how after the Yankees had tied it in the ninth, Houston was left with two available pitchers. He had no interest in running the risk of one of his position players taking the mound in a postseason game.
“I would love for Urquidy to go five, six innings,” Hinch said. “Whatever he can do.”
He indeed did. Urquidy pitched five shutout innings to guide the Astros to an 8-1 victory to even the World Series at two games apiece and return home-field advantage to the Astros.
[ Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer to square off in Game 5 ]
With those five scoreless frames coming as a visitor in a World Series game, he became only the second pitcher with such an outing in his first career postseason start since Orioles legend Jim Palmer pitched a shutout against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1966 World Series. Only Jon Lester kept Urquidy from being the first to do so since Major League Baseball instituted the League Champion Series in 1969.
At 24, Urquidy is the oldest of the trio. A 23-year-old Lester helped the Boston Red Sox finish a sweep of the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 World Series while Palmer, then nine days shy of his 21st birthday, did not allow a run in nine innings for the second of four Orioles victories in their own sweep. Urquidy’s Astros can’t sweep, but his efforts Saturday allowed them to avoid the unenviable position of needing three straight victories for a title. They also made him only the second Mexican-born pitcher to earn a win in the World Series, joining Fernando Valenzuela.
“That means a lot for me,” Urquidy said. “I feel very special for that.”
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With his mother, Alma, in attendance, Urquidy allowed two hits to continue the Nationals’ offensive struggles since the Series arrived in the Mid-Atlantic. He got young superstar Juan Soto, who turned 21 on Friday, to line out after Anthony Rendon singled with two outs in the first. Catcher Yan Gomes, playing in place of an injured Kurt Suzuki, doubled to begin the third, but after Urquidy’s opposite number, Patrick Corbin, failed to advance the runner with a bunt back to the mound, Urquidy stranded Gomes at third after shortstop Carlos Correa used all of his 6-foot-4 frame to capture an Adam Eaton liner.
“A couple of moments, I was thinking about, ‘Oh my god, I’m [in the] World Series pitching,'” Urquidy said. “It’s awesome.”
The last nine Nationals to face Urquidy were retired, but Hinch ended the pitcher’s night after 67 pitches, his most since his final regular-season outing Sept. 27. He was due to hit fourth in the top of the sixth, and although that spot didn’t come up, Hinch said he figured it would and decided to pull Urquidy.
“I didn’t want to get too greedy with him,” Hinch said, noting the Astros might need to call on Urquidy again in relief as the series continues.
Since rejoining the Astros as a September call-up, Urquidy has a 1.32 ERA. Gerrit Cole, the Astros’ ace who will start Game 5 and has as strong a candidacy as anyone to become the American League Cy Young Award recipient, has a 1.38 ERA in that span.
Sunday, with Cole on the mound, Houston will try to keep the World Series’ trend of visiting victories going, with this marking the first time since 1996 the road team has won the World Series’ first four games and only the fifth time overall. And thanks to Urquidy doing something only done on this stage once since Palmer did it 53 years ago, the Astros will be going for their first series lead instead of a narrowed deficit.
“If you didn’t know who he was,” Hinch said, “I think this stage will make sure everybody knows who he is now.”