Rookie hurler delivers shutdown performance as Astros square World Series

Rookie pitcher José Urquidy pitched five shutout innings and Alex Bregman hit a grand slam Saturday night as the Houston Astros tied the World Series with an 8-1 win against the Nationals in Game 4.

The Astros win guarantees the best-of-seven series, tied at two games apiece, will have a Game 6 on Tuesday in Houston. Game 5 is Sunday night at Nationals Park with the Astros’ Gerrit Cole pitching against Max Scherzer, a rematch of Game 1.

Urquidy, 24, who was the Astros’ opening day starter at Double-A Corpus Christi in the Texas League this season, pitched five shutout innings and picked up the victory.

He kept the Nationals off-balance with a mix of fastballs, changeups and sliders. His fastball was hitting 96 mph. He had four strikeouts, including one of Juan Soto, with no walks.

“Yes, I was a little nervous,” Urquidy said. “After the first inning, I relaxed. A couple of times, I looked around and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m in the World Series.’ “

He and his mother had coffee Saturday morning and “she gave me words of encouragement,” Urquidy said.

Urquidy is the third Mexican-born pitcher to start a World Series game, joining the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela (1981) and St. Louis’ Jaime Garcia (2011).

Urquidy and Valenzuela are the only Mexican-born starters to get World Series victories.

“It means a lot to me,” Urquidy said. “It’s something special.”

Urquidy had two stints this season on the Astros roster. After a 5.87 ERA during July, he was sent to the minors. He came back in September and posted a 1.50 ERA.

He’s on the postseason roster because lefty Wade Miley, after a strong five months in the rotation, fell a part during September and lost the job as the No. 4 starter behind Justin Verlander, Cole and Zack Greinke.

Urquidy has been used as a reliever twice in October. He pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings against Tampa Bay in the American League Division Series and gave up one run in 2 2/3 innings versus the Yankees in the AL Championship Series.

On Saturday night, he quieted Nationals Park when he retired nine consecutive Nationals, including a 1-2-3 fifth inning on 15 pitches. Then manager A.J. Hinch went to his bullpen for the sixth inning. Urquidy was done after 67 pitches.

“He was nasty from the first pitch until he came out,” Astros outfielder Jake Marisnick said. “He put this team on his back and gave us a chance to win the game.”

Hinch’s decision nearly backfired in the sixth inning with a 4-1 lead. He brought in command-challenged Josh James to start the inning.

James got into immediate trouble, walking two and giving up a single. Will Harris took over for James and pitched out of a one-out jam with Adam Eaton on third base and Anthony Rendon on second.

With the ballpark rocking, Harris retired Soto on a grounder to first and then struck out Howie Kendrick, the NLCS MVP for the Nationals.

Why take Urquidy out?

“I battled with that decision,” Hinch said. “I didn’t want to get too greedy with him. If they got things started, I didn’t want him to face the middle of the order again. I tried to be proactive.

“The other thing is the back of mind is how long a series can get. We might need him back in Houston if we win. I wanted to try save a few bullets along the way.”

About Harris’ performance, Hinch said, “He’s outstanding. I thought he was calm. I thought he was in control. His fastball has had extra life. And, he came up big, pitch after pitch.’‘

Bregman’s grand slam in the seventh - the first in a World Series for the Astros- gave Houston an 8-1 lead and took away all the bullpen drama.

“I’m not going to lie, I thought it was foul,” Astros reliever Brad Peacock said. “It definitely took a lot of pressure off the bullpen.”

Bregman said: “It felt good to add some insurance after they scored a run. It was huge. About the at-bat, I was just trying to hit something in the air, in the middle of the field.”

The grand slam was the 20th in World Series history and the first since 2016 when the Cubs’ Addison Russell connected in Game 6 against Cleveland.

It was also the first grand slam by an American League player since the Chicago White Sox’s Paul Konerko in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series against the Astros.

The Astros are trying to become the fourth team since 1973 to win a World Series after losing the first two at home.

The 1996 Yankees were the last to do it, against Atlanta. The 1986 Mets did it against Boston and the 1985 Kansas City Royals did it against St. Louis.

Astros players are wearing T-shirts that read, “Take It Back,’’ across the front. They won the World Series in 2017 and didn’t make the World Series last October.

“We knew we hadn’t played our best baseball,” Astros outfielder Josh Reddick said. “Today was a good wake-up call for this team. We know we can put up crooked numbers quickly. We are more upbeat now, but we’ve never lost confidence.”

Bregman was excited the series is tied.

“We stopped the bleeding last night and came out and played well again today,” he said. “We want to keep it rolling.”