As soon as Marwin Gonzalez tumbled to the ground, Brian McCann knew the Astros had him. Gonzalez, a utility player who is more of an infielder, had fired off a throw that was hard, fast and true to the plate. It nailed Greg Bird and it killed the Yankees’ attempt at a fifth-inning rally in their 2-1 loss to the Astros in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park Friday night.
“It was one of the plays of the game,” McCann said. “We’re also talking about a guy whose natural position is third base, second base shortstop the infield. He’s been invaluable for this team giving guys days off. During the course of the season he can play anywhere. He’s been one of the MVPs of this team.”
Friday night he was one of two most valuable players, along with starter Dallas Keuchel, who held the Yankees scoreless for seven innings. He got through that with help from the Astros’ most versatile player. Gonzalez rushed the ball and grabbed it on its second bounce and flung it home so hard he fell over on the play. According to statcast, the throw clocked in at 97.4 miles per hour.
Marwin Gonzalez is naturally an infielder.
(Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports)
“It was their best moment of the game,” Gonzalez said of the Yankees offense. “I just tried to get to the ball as fast as I could. I knew the only play would be at home plate. If they scored there, it would have changed the energy of the game.”
Instead, the lumbering Bird, who had surgery on his right ankle in July, stopped it. With two on and two out, Bird was running from second on the 3-2 pitch and said there was nothing he could have changed. He was just too slow.
Greg Bird got thrown out by Marwin Gonzalez at the plate on a vital play.
(Bob Levey/Getty Images)
“When I rounded the bag I saw Mac and he didn’t just give up on the play,” Bird said of the former Yankee McCann. “I could tell there was going to be a throw and a play. I kept going. I just slid straight in. I’ve tried sliding around before, but I feel like sliding straight in was my best bet.”
The ball beat Bird by less than half a second, according to statcast. McCann took the one-hopper and simply had to turn and tag Bird’s leg. McCann said he would have been shocked if the play had been overturned when the Yankees challenged it.
Yankees vs. Astros 2017 American League Championship Series
“Just right when he released, it stayed true the whole way and it was right on the money,” McCann said. “I knew I tagged him and I’d have been very shocked if they overturned it.”
It was a play the Yankees had to score on, but they should not have been surprised by Gonzalez’s ability to fire a strike to the plate. He’d just done that in Game 4 of the Astros’ American League Division Series against the Red Sox. He threw out Mitch Moreland on a similar play in the third inning of that game, closing out a Red Sox threat.
Though Gonzalez is naturally an infielder, he has proven himself to Astros manager A.J. Hinch in left field.
“So he’s got a good arm, I’ve been leaving him out there late in games as I’ve gotten more comfortable with him and he’s gotten more comfortable for those reasons. He really plays left field in this ballpark very well in the unique dimensions in left field,” Hinch said. “It’s like having a shortstop in left field, and having that kind of arm comes up big when he didn’t give up on the play when Judge hit the ball to him.”