Rafael Montero Agrees to Three-Year, $34.5 Million Contract with Houston Astros

Rafael Montero isn’t leaving Houston in the near future…

The 32-year-old Dominican professional baseball pitcher has agreed to a three-year, $34.5 million contract that will bring the right-handed reliever back to the Houston Astros‘ dominant bullpen a week after the team rode its pitching staff to a World Series title, according to ESPN.

Rafael Montero,  Montero thrived in his first full season with the Astros, posting a 2.37 ERA in 68⅓ innings and allowing just three home runs while striking out 73.

Re-signing Montero deepens an Astros bullpen that already will return closer Ryan Pressly, right-handed flamethrowers Ryne Stanek and Bryan Abreu, and solid righties Hector Neris and Phil Maton.

It likewise continues the early trend in free agency of high salaries for relief pitchers, after the New York Mets signed Edwin Diaz to a five-year, $102 million contract and San Diego gave right-hander Robert Suarez a five-year deal worth $46 million.

Houston acquired Montero in a July 2021 trade from the Seattle Mariners and watched him blossom into the hardest-throwing version of himself yet, with a fastball that averaged 96.5 mph. Of the remaining relievers available in free agency, Montero topped a number of teams’ lists.

The contract is a bet on Montero’s 2022 more than his previous seasons. Once a well-regarded starting-pitching prospect, Montero bounced from the Mets to the Texas Rangers to the Mariners before landing in Houston, where he allowed two runs in 9⅓ innings this postseason and struck out 10.

With a ground-ball rate of greater than 50% and high strikeout numbers, Montero was bound to generate widespread interest and took advantage of it with a deal that exceeded industrywide expectations. In 182 career games, Montero has a 4.43 ERA as a reliever and struck out 213 in 201⅓ innings.

Jeremy Peña Hits Solo Home Run to Help Houston Astros Sweep Seattle Mariners for Spot in AL Championship Series

Jeremy Peña is returning to Houston a hero…

The 25-year-old Dominican professional baseball player’s solo home run off Seattle Mariners reliever Penn Murfee provided the lone tally in the Houston Astros’ 1-0 victory that clinched a spot in the AL Championship Series for the sixth consecutive season.

Jeremy PeñaThis day, two decades in the making, seemed like it was never going to end. Game 3 of the American League Division Series between the top-seeded Astros and Mariners, hosting their first postseason game since 2001, featured epic pitching, exemplary defense and, finally, in the 18th inning, the only hit that mattered.

Never before had a postseason game gone scoreless for as long as Game 3 did. Its 18 innings tied a postseason record with three other games, its 6-hour, 22-minute run time the third longest ever. The 42 combined strikeouts set a record. The four combined walks and zero errors exemplified that this wasn’t just a battle of offensive ineptitude but rather a clinic in run prevention.

It was the capper of an oxymoronic outcome: the close sweep. While Houston took all three games in the best-of-five series, comeback victories in Games 1 and 2 showed that the Mariners were no fluke. They were simply not good enough to overcome Houston’s deep pitching staff and dangerous lineup.

“We kept putting the zero up there and they kept putting the zero up there, and you think we’re going to be able to break through because we have so many times,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It’s kind of what we’re accustomed to, playing those tight games and finding a way. … I mean, that is a big league game, with the pitching and defense that was fired out there. We just weren’t able to put anything together.”

In the game’s first half, the story centered around a pair of great starting pitching performances, by Seattle rookie George Kirby and Houston right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., who was battling an illness. Kirby threw seven brilliant shutout innings; McCullers nearly matched him with six. Each ceded to a bullpen that ranks among the best in baseball, something both showed as arm after arm entered and exited the game without allowing a run.

Seven Seattle relievers put up scoreless outings before Peña’s homer. Houston matched that number, led by Luis Garcia, the right-handed starter who finished with five shutout innings, allowed two hits and zero walks, struck out six and locked down the 18th to earn the victory.

Pena, the 25-year-old rookie who took over at shortstop upon the free agent departure of Carlos Correa, had provided the necessary run in the top of the inning. He entered the at-bat 0-for-7. He left it 1-for-8 after Murfee hung a slider, and Pena pummeled it out to center field.

“You could tell by his brightness in his eyes and his alertness on the field that he wasn’t scared and he wasn’t fazed by this,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Boy, he’s been a godsend to us, especially since we lost Carlos, because this could have been a disastrous situation had he not performed the way he has.”

Houston’s offense, the best in the American League this season, managed just 11 hits in 63 at-bats. Seattle’s offense, which lived by the home run this season, was 7-for-60. The Mariners struck out 22 times and drew three walks. The Astros walked just once against 20 punchouts. The defense was clean, none better than when Mariners star rookie Julio Rodriguez tracked down a Yuli Gurriel shot into the right-center-field gap in the 16th to save a pair of runs.

All night, “Ju-li-o” chants permeated T-Mobile Park, which 47,690 packed to see the Mariners’ first playoff team since the 2001 group that won 116 regular-season game but lost in the ALCS. While this Mariners core is likely to return to the playoffs in the coming years, the Astros are still the team through which the AL runs.

With a thin bullpen hamstringing them in past seasons, the Astros focused on sharpening it this year and after McCullers ran out a litany of power-armed relievers who each threw a scoreless inning: Hector NerisRafael MonteroRyan PresslyBryan Abreu and Ryne Stanek. Rookie Hunter Brown put up a pair of scoreless frames. And then came Garcia’s command performance.

“This at-bat,” Pena said of his home run, “was not going to be possible if our pitching staff didn’t keep us in the ballgame. They dominated all game. Their pitching staff dominated all game.”

The game resembled another from earlier this postseason, when the Cleveland Guardians and Tampa Bay Rays were scoreless until the 15th, when rookie Oscar Gonzalez hit a walk-off home run to clinch the wild card series for the Guardians. Excellent pitching has been the key for Houston, the Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres, all of whom have advanced. Cleveland can grab the final championship-series spot and face the Astros with one more victory against the New York Yankees.

Houston Astros’ Yordan Alvarez Launches Go-Ahead, Two-Run Homer to Lead Team to Victory Over Seattle Mariners

Yordan Alvarez has done it again…

The 25-year-old Cuban professional baseball designated hitter and left fielder hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth inning off Seattle Mariners ace Luis Castillo that lifted the Houston Astros over the Mariners 4-2 on Thursday for a 2-0 lead in the AL Division Series.

Yordan Alvarez,Alvarez was the Game 1 hero with his gut-punch, three-run shot off reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray with two outs in the ninth inning that gave the Astros an 8-7 win in a game in which they had trailed by four.

With Thursday’s home run, Alvarez became the first player in Major League Baseball (MLB) postseason history to hit multiple career go-ahead homers in the sixth inning or later when his team was trailing, and both of his came in his past two games, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Castillo, acquired from the Cincinnati Reds near the trade deadline and coming off 7⅓ innings of shutout ball against Toronto Blue Jays in the wild-card round, gave up an early home run to Kyle Tucker but little else as he took a 2-1 lead into the sixth.

But with two outs, Jeremy Peña singled on a blooper that fell in between second baseman Adam Frazier and center fielder Julio Rodríguez. Castillo bent down and slapped his legs in disappointment as he watched the ball drop in shallow center.

That brought up Alvarez, who hit a 98 mph pitch tailing away to the opposite field, into the short porch in left to put the Astros on top 3-2.

Alvarez, who had 37 homers in the regular season, trotted around the bases as cameras panned to his Cuban parents, who are watching their first postseason series after arriving in Houston in August. The lefty pointed to them as he reached the plate before reenacting the powerful swing that has the Astros one win away from their sixth straight AL Championship Series.

There were two outs and a runner on first in the eighth when Seattle had surely seen enough of Alvarez leaving the yard. The Mariners intentionally walked him and Alex Bregman made them pay, adding some insurance when he singled to make it 4-2.

Houston starter Framber Valdez had a solid start, allowing four hits and two runs in 5⅔ innings. He had a different look than he did in his last postseason appearance after he and fellow pitcher Luis Garcia both got hair extensions this season.

Hector Neris earned the win after getting the last out of the sixth inning to escape a bases-loaded jam. Bryan Abreu got the first two outs of the seventh before Rafael Montero came in and threw 1⅓ scoreless innings.

Ryan Pressly walked the leadoff batter in the ninth before J.P. Crawford lined into a double play. Rodríguez doubled after that, but Pressly struck out Ty France for the save. The Astros won despite issuing seven walks overall.

The Mariners will head back to Seattle for Game 3 on Saturday in a huge hole in the best-of-five series as they host their first playoff game in 21 years.

Hector Neris Agrees to Two-Year, $17 Million Deal with Houston Astros

Hector Neris is celebrating an Astros-nomical deal…

The 32-year-old Dominican professional baseball pitcher and the Houston Astros have agreed to a two-year, $17 million deal, according to ESPN.

Hector Neris

Neris, a right-handed reliever, started the 2021 season as the closer for the Philadelphia Phillies but lost the job in June. He finished the season with a 4-7 record with 12 saves and a 3.63 ERA in 74 games.

In parts of eight seasons with the Phillies, Neris was 21-29 with a 3.42 ERA and 84 saves.

NBC Sports Philadelphia first reported the deal.