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October 14, 2017

AJ Hinch

Houston, Texas - postgame 2

Houston - 2, New York - 1

Q. Can you describe what you saw from Verlander today? And that's obviously why you guys went out and got him, but to go nine, 124 pitches and to set you up like that the entire game.
A.J. HINCH: Yeah, big moments are meant for big-time performers. From pitch 1 Justin Verlander was big for this team. Really, pitch 1 as an Astros. But most importantly, this game today he was exceptional in every way. From controlling his emotions to executing every pitch to being dominant with his fastball, the put-away breaking ball, a couple changeups. He just was every bit the top-end pitcher in the league that he's been for a really long time.

This is such a big moment for our team, but he put us on his back today with his pitching.

Q. Couple of strange things happened today. Of course the first, Correa hit the home run with the kid and then the ball --
A.J. HINCH: I love that kid. I want to leave that kid tickets.

Q. And then the ball getting stuck above Springer's head. When you're seeing stuff like that as opposed to, and Verlander's doing what he's doing, what's going through your head?
A.J. HINCH: Well, there's just so much small margins in these games. If you look at this game as a whole, there were just so many small things; the relay throw from Correa to get Gardner. The bizarre -- I've been here three years but I haven't seen a ball get lodged in that left center field area like that. The home run in the front row to these big moments, Verlander up to 120-plus pitches, there's just very little margin for error to win these games. The short hop to Sanchez that Altuve scored on.

There's just no room to breathe in these games. Both sides are really throwing high-end pitching, both sides are really putting up really good at-bats. Hits are hard to come by against good pitching. I think we're starting to recognize that over the last couple games in this series.

But just staying with the game plan, staying with our approach, fighting the good fight, and then ultimately celebrating on the field with those guys and in front of this crowd was really the highlight of the season so far.

Q. Double check to make sure that was a send by Pettis and what was your thought when you saw him do that?
A.J. HINCH: Yes, it was a send from Pettis. He was sending from the beginning. And we joke in our clubhouse about Gary Pettis being the most aggressive third base coach in the league, and I think he still lives as the most aggressive third base coach in the league because he wants to put pressure on the opponent.

I think what created that, two things: One, Altuve really ran well around the bases when the ball hit; when Judge cut it off, where he throws the ball is really going to dictate what Gary wants to do. As the ball got towards second base there was a play at second base, you look up, Altuve is halfway there, they have got to execute two really tough throws. And obviously the short hop helped us at the end and Altuve's safe.

So we like to put pressure on teams. Obviously we run the bases that way, we sometimes can be a little too aggressive. But, man, when it works out, that feeling of that we applied enough pressure to make a difference is key for us.

Q. Can you talk about Verlander a little bit. When did you know how far he could go and was the conversation at any point like, How you feeling, do you want to come out?
A.J. HINCH: That's a routine conversation for me and our pitchers on how they're feeling. It's a hundred percent they say they feel great, so it doesn't matter when I go to them, they say that in the playoffs, I would have had to rip the ball away from that man if I was going to take him out. And sometimes you have to combine what you know with what you see. And that's really hard to do in this job, obviously it's a results-oriented game. When it works out you feel great about it; if it didn't work out I would have felt terrible about it.

But when you see him finish games the way that he finishes, it's really hard to take him out of that moment. He had plenty in his tank. I asked him a couple innings prior, I keep checking in with those guys so it's not the major drama at the end of an outing, I usually start around the 5th and 6th just checking in with them.

And he's always honest with me in terms of giving me sort of a gauge, but he was locked in and ready to finish that game as long as it took.

Q. The pressure of the postseason can really get to teams defensively. But what can you say about your group, they seem to be so locked in on that side making plays one after another we saw from Altuve and then carried on to today?
A.J. HINCH: Yeah, you try to tell your players and preach to your players to take what the game gives you and just to execute plays and let whatever the play develop develop. And our defense has been spectacular. To a man they have done their job to whatever the game has given them. The relay throw with Correa, the throws from Marwin. Outside of a little communication on the pop-up, when we're lucky Correa's a little taller than Bregman on the pop-up.

But we have been pretty flawless so far. It's a long series ahead and it can shift. We have got to stay focused, but defensively when you make plays you limit the opposition's chance to build things, and we have come up with some big defensive plays.

Q. Going back to the Verlander decision, you gave four very good Yankee hitters a fourth look at him. Whether he's tired or not, how much of a risk did you believe you were taking by doing that?
A.J. HINCH: Well, I mean, I guess a risk, of course, because any time -- I get talked about the third time through the order these days -- so fourth time is definitely going to create a little bit of curiosity.

But I mean, you guys watched the game, he was really good and he had plenty left and he was making pitches and he was missing bats. That's enough for me.

Q. Can you take us inside your head a little bit when as soon as Correa hits the ball is your first thought, Go, let's send him? And the second thing, as the throw is coming in, does your heart sink a little bit because it looks like the ball's going to beat him?
A.J. HINCH: Well, first I looked at Judge to see if he was going to cut the ball off, and once he did, then I picked up Altuve, then the play at second, I'm seeing if a run into an out at second base, then I pick Altuve back up. So there was a lot going on in that play and it all happened pretty fast.

And for me, you trust your players to be able to make plays, you trust your coaches to make decisions. Third base coach is the only other guy that makes a decision on this team. And I love the aggressive approach, I've always supported that with Gary. I didn't know the ball was going to be low to Sanchez just based on the angle that I had, but all's well that ends well.

Q. You have a lot of guys that haven't been on this stage before. And to win two 2-1 games like this, and to win them without scoring a lot of runs, what did you learn? I know you didn't learn anything about your team, but...
A.J. HINCH: Right. No, I mean, obviously we have just been able to stay present in the moment and win the games the way that they needed to be won. We can't ask their pitching to sit it out there over the plate and give up the home run ball that we're pretty good at; we just continue to put up good at-bats and see if we can manufacture some runs. We have manufactured enough to get the first two wins. And now we're going to face different pitching in New York than we faced now.

So these are such tough series. I mean, I can't tell you enough from pitch 1 to the end of the game, both sides are really, really emphasizing staying in the game and just continuing to fight because it can shift in a heartbeat. Just when you feel good about where you're at, it can shift back to momentum the other way. So it's postseason baseball at its best.

Q. Hits were hard to come by today, but Correa managed to get two very important ones. Just your thoughts on his performance.
A.J. HINCH: Yeah, he had a big day. He had a big day. He had really good at-bats. The walk to start off against Severino, the opposite field home run. Most humans hit the ball that way with that type of swing and it carries just over the infield; his carries just over the fence. Again, he's a big-time player. The at-bat against Chapman, whatever the game gave him, he went the other way, he didn't try to end it with a homer in the Crawford box. We have seen that before from him. He's got a lot of walk-offs in his short career, and that's because he does stay calm, he stays in the strike zone. And it's why he's in the middle of our order and a middle of a lot of things we do well.

Q. Even as good as the bullpen is, and particularly Chapman, how much confidence do you have seeing Altuve's going to come up in that situation, knowing what he's been doing for you this postseason?
A.J. HINCH: Yeah. No, the good part of our offense is I feel good about anywhere in the order. May change how we score or what matchups we have. But the confidence level in the middle of the order is at the highest level. These guys can put up good at-bats with the best of them. We have been doing it for a long time, doing it in these moments against this team in the ALCS, obviously it makes me very proud.

Q. With baseball today as swinging for home runs and strike outs, your strike outs are down today and you've got a speed guy running the bases, does that harken back to a little bit different age to have what happened to win the ball game?
A.J. HINCH: Yeah. No, I mean, we can win games in so many different ways, it speaks to the talent on the team. It speaks to just our ability to stay in the game and we didn't hit the ball out of the ballpark, sometimes we do, we got to put some hits together, sometimes we do. We can run. We try to be a complete offense, and sometimes that means we can ambush guys and sometimes it means we need five or six singles like yesterday and the game we had today to scratch out a couple runs.

We talk about winning games and we won two of them.


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