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.

Cristian Javier Teams with Houston Astros Relievers for Historic World Series No-Hitter

Cristian Javier has earned a place in World Series history…

The 25-year-old Dominican professional baseball pitcher teamed up with Houston Astros relievers Bryan AbreuRafael Montero and Ryan Pressly in completing the first combined no-hitter in postseason history, using his devastating fastball to vex a helpless Philadelphia Phillies lineup through the first six innings of what became a 5-0 Astros victory in Game 4 on Wednesday.

Cristian JavierThe Astros were coming off a difficult loss and needed Javier to rescue them from an overwhelming World Series deficit, but Javier’s parents Trinidad and Cecilio tried to strike an optimistic, supportive tone.

They proved to be prophetic.

“Let’s try to stay positive,” Javier recalled hearing from his mother and father. “God willing, you’ll throw a no-hitter.”

The win tied the Series at two games apiece and placed Javier in exceedingly rare company, joining former New York Yankees right-hander Don Larsen — author of a perfect game in 1956 — as the only pitchers in World Series history to finish an outing with no hits allowed in six or more innings.

“This is the best gift I could have ever given my family, my parents,” Javier said in Spanish. “To me, it’s even more special knowing that they were able to see that in person.”

Javier’s start was a reenactment of the combined no-hitter he played a key role in against the New York Yankees on June 25, making Javier the first pitcher to start multiple combined no-hitters within a career, let alone the same season. He set the tone for what became the third no-hitter of any kind in the 119 years that Major League Baseball has staged the postseason, and the second — along with Roy Halladay‘s in the 2010 National League Division Series, against a Cincinnati Reds team managed by current Astros manager Dusty Baker — that took place at Citizens Bank Park.

“That’s what’s strange about life,” Baker said of finally getting on the right side of a postseason no-hitter. “I remember being on the other end of that. It was the seventh inning and it seemed like it was the second inning, and I looked up on the board and it’s the seventh inning already. Then you’re trying not to be no-hit and then you’re trying to win the ballgame and — yeah, that’s pretty remarkable.”

Javier himself is remarkable. He was signed for $10,000 seven years ago from La Victoria, a small town within Santo Domingo known mostly for the notorious prison that shares its name. He was nearing his 18th birthday then, old in an international market where prospects agree to deals at 12 and 13 years old, and he threw only in the mid-80s. But his fastball was already extremely difficult to hit. As he got stronger, his velocity continued to increase. He became the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2019, established himself as a dynamic weapon — in the rotation or out of the bullpen — in 2020 and 2021, and reached a new level in 2022, posting a 2.54 ERA in 148⅔ regular-season innings.

As the year went on, Javier only got better.

Dating back to September 14, the right-hander has thrown at least five scoreless innings and allowed no more than two hits in six consecutive starts. He is now the first pitcher in postseason history with at least five innings and no more than one hit allowed in back-to-back starts.

“Just going into today’s game, we had so much confidence in him,” Astros center fielder Chas McCormick said. “Even coaches, I had a feeling — Javier’s going to shove today. And he’s been shoving.”

Javier struck out nine batters and issued just two walks through the first six innings. At the start of the fourth, he began a stretch of five consecutive strikeouts. In the sixth, the pitcher with the lowest groundball rate in the majors during the regular season — among those who compiled at least 140 innings — benefitted from three consecutive groundouts. At that point, Javier became the first pitcher to reach six no-hit innings in the World Series since Jerry Koosman in 1969.

Javier did it with his four-seam fastball. He threw it 72% of the time, the highest percentage of his major league career, and recorded 14 of his 18 outs — including two-thirds of his strikeouts — with that pitch. He also got 27 foul balls off it, the most of any pitcher on a singular pitch in a game this season, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. It was a sign that the Phillies were consistently late, the main characteristic Astros co-pitching coach Joshua Miller looks for in Javier.

“It’s a good fastball,” Phillies left fielder Kyle Schwarber said. “He’s got good extension, good ride, things like that. When it says ’92’ up on the board, it’s playing a little bit harder than that.”

There have been 18 combined no-hitters throughout major league history, but none have come particularly close to occurring in the postseason. The only other one that extended through seven innings was done by the Atlanta Braves, against these Astros, in Game 3 of last year’s World Series. Javier, Abreu, Montero, Pressly and Astros catcher Christian Vazquez, who filled in for Martin Maldonado largely because of how well he works with Javier, all posed with the baseball on the field postgame. The National Baseball Hall of Fame preserved one of the baseballs Javier pitched with and got it signed by all five players, also keeping a rosin bag and John Smoltz‘s scoresheet.

“It’s a very special day for us,” Vazquez said.

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.

Carlos Correa Hits Game-Winning Home Run to Keep the Houston Astros Alive in the American League Championship Series

It’s a swing and a win for Carlos Correa

The 26-year-old Puerto Rican professional baseball player and Houston Astros shortstop smacked his sixth home run of the postseason, a walk-off homer to centerfield, to propel his team to a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday at San Diego’s Petco Park.

Carlos Correa

 

Game 6 of the series, which the Rays lead 3-2, will take place at 5:07 p.m. on Friday.

“I don’t want to go home yet,” Correa said in TBS‘ on-field interview. “We were down 0-3, we had a players meeting in the clubhouse and we said we don’t want to go home yet, so we better do something about it. We’re down 2-3 and still have a lot of work to do, but it’s a good start.”

The Astros held on a to slim 3-2 lead heading into the eighth before Ji-Man Choi blasted a ball off Astros reliever Josh James 447 feet to right field to tie the game.

The Astros got off to a quick start when George Springer took the first pitch from Rays starter John Curtiss deep to left field for a solo home run.

The Rays tied things up with a Brandon Lowe homer off reliever Blake Taylor in the third.

The Astros regained the lead with a Michael Brantley single to right that scored Josh Reddick and Martin Maldonado.

The Rays’ Randy Arozarena hit a solo homer off Astros reliever Enoli Paredes in the fifth.

The Astros used seven different pitches with the first five being rookies. Luis Garcia, who had made just one start in his big league career, pitched two shutout innings, despite loading the bases in the second. From there, Taylor got a couple outs before handing off to Paredes, who got five outs. Andre Scrubb got four outs, then Brooks Raley threw a scoreless inning. James gave up the homer in the eighth before Ryan Pressly entered to get the game’s final four outs.

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The Astros will have Framber Valdez on the mound for Game 6 with a fully rested Lance McCullers ready to go in a Game 7 if they get that far.