A year ago, the Royals rode to the World Series on the backs of unlikely heroes, young players who had flat-lined during the regular season, then found their moment in October. This year, the Houston Astros may be threatening to do the same.
On Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park, those roles belonged to Houston’s Chris Carter and Jason Castro, who sparked an Astros offense with timely hitting in the Astros’ 4-2 victory over the Royals in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
As the Astros took a 2-1 series lead and moved to the brink of the ALCS, Carter played the role of offensive catalyst, solving Royals starter Edinson Volquez in his first two at-bats and crushing a first-pitch homer off Danny Duffy in the bottom of the seventh. Castro, the Astros’ 28-year-old catcher, came up big in the fifth inning with a two-run single that gave the Astros a 2-1 lead.
“We have a really resilient group,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said, “and Carter and Castro represent that.”
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For nine innings, the Royals contained and limited Houston’s leading men. Second baseman Jose Altuve was zero for four. Shortstop Carlos Correa had just one hit in four at-bats.
The Astros scratched for enough offense anyway, relying on a slugging first baseman who hit just .199 this season and a former All-Star catcher who hit just .211.
For Carter, a 28-year-old first baseman who stands 6 feet 5 and 250 pounds, the performance doubled as a moment of cathartic redemption. Three months ago, the people here in Houston wanted him gone, discarded to the scrap heap as his batting average hovered around .180. On Sunday, he was strutting through a fog-filled clubhouse as the Astros reveled in their first home playoff win in a decade.
“I’ve been getting pitches up in the zone and not missing them,” Carter said. “That’s probably been the biggest thing for me.”
In some ways, Carter might be the walking embodiment of the Astros’ offensive philosophy, an all-or-nothing masher who averages 180 strikeouts per season while cranking his quota of 20 to 30 homers into the seats here at Minute Maid Park.
A local whipping boy of sorts, Carter racked up another 151 K’s this season. But Hinch stood by Carter, and his patience was paid back on Sunday.
“He’s hung in all year,” Hinch said. “It hasn’t been an easy year for him.”
Before Sunday, Carter had not recorded a three-hit game all season. He chose the right time to break the trend.
He singled to deep left off Volquez in the third before getting thrown out by Alex Gordon at second base. He added a double with a man on base in the decisive fifth inning. He delivered a towering homer off Duffy in the seventh.
“He’s swinging the bat,” Altuve said. “He’s hot and I love the guy.”
Castro, meanwhile, had not recorded a hit this postseason before beating Volquez on a 1-2 changeup in the fifth inning. As the Astros looked to Monday, and a possible berth in the ALCS, Castro was happy — and succinct.