Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker managed to answer only a few questions before he addressed the noise. The noise that made it difficult to hear Baker, even if he wasn’t wearing a mask. The wall-rattling music that came from the visiting clubhouse on the other side of the door.
“It is loud,” Baker said. “It should be loud. It hasn’t been loud in a while, so let them party.”
The Astros, who made it into the expanded 2020 MLB postseason field despite a losing record, had just beaten the Twins 4-1 on Tuesday in the first game of a best-of-three AL wild-card series. And the player who Baker was trying to discuss as he competed with the noise made the music possible.
Lefthander Framber Valdez pitched five scoreless innings in relief for the first time in the MLB postseason since Madison Bumgarner pitched five shutout innings for San Francisco in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series vs. Kansas City.
“I love hearing opponents talk about how nasty [Valdez] is,” designated hitter Michael Brantley said. “I’m glad he is on our side because I didn’t want to face him.”
Valdez entered in the fifth inning with Houston down 1-0 while Twins ace Kenta Maeda was retiring batter after batter with his slider. Astros starter Zack Greinke pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning but needed 30 pitches to do so. That set him back to the point that by the end of the fourth, he had thrown 79 pitches.
Baker said they hoped Greinke could go five innings, but the high pitch count helped the Astros make the decision to bring Valdez into the game.
“[Greinke] was good, but not as good as Greinke can be,” Baker said. “So we decided to give them a different look.”
That look: A 5-11, 240-pound lefty.
Valdez struggled at first. He threw eight balls on 12 pitches against the first two Twins batters he faced, walking Marwin Gonzalez and Luiz Arraez.
The sluggish start prompted a mound visit.
Then, everything changed. After that opening sequence, Valdez didn’t walk any more batters, struck out five and allowed only two hits.
“I didn’t let those first couple walks take away from my focus,” Valdez said through a translator, “because I knew I was able to get back in the strike zone, and I was executing the pitches the way that I wanted to.”
He managed this effort on the opposite end of the postseason experience spectrum from Greinke. Ten years older than Valdez, Greinke made his 17th career postseason start Tuesday.
Against the Twins, Valdez, 26, made his first postseason appearance.
No pressure, right?
“Framber is oblivious to pressure,” Baker said. “He just likes to pitch. And we like him to pitch.”
They certainly did Tuesday. Just when it seemed the Astros might let someone else close the game, Valdez remained. Baker said that was because of how well he was pitching and the fact that Valdez, who started 10 games this season, usually goes longer than the 66 pitches he tossed against the Twins.
“Amazing job,” Astros second baseman Jose Altuve said. “We needed that kind of performance.”