Instead, the Astros probably spent the 14 minutes between the exit of starter Luis Garcia with a knee injury and the end of Odorizzi’s leisurely, rule-permitted warmup — as well as the many uncomfortable minutes that followed while the Boston Red Sox were pouring it on in a 9-5 victory that evened the series at a game apiece — pondering the few, bleak options before them for surviving the rest of this series behind a tattered and thinning pitching staff.
If Game 2 wasn’t already over after the grand slam by Boston Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez off Garcia in the first — and as it happened, solo homers by Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro in the ninth, which plated the Astros’ fourth and fifth runs and made the Red Sox sweat out the final out of the game, meant it was not — it almost certainly was after Rafael Devers’s grand slam off Odorizzi in the second made it 8-0. The blasts from Martinez and Devers made the Red Sox the first team in history with two grand slams in a postseason game.
And if it wasn’t over then, it absolutely, positively was after Hernandez, in the midst of a postseason tear for the ages, homered to left off Odorizzi in the fourth to make it 9-0 — Hernandez’s fifth homer in his past five postseason games dating from Game 2 of the division series.
“It’s a very good approach right now,” Red Sox Manager Alex Cora, whose career postseason record improved to 16-5, said of his team’s offense. “We’re not getting greedy. It’s not about hitting 30 home runs or driving in 100 runs. It’s about winning four games against the Astros. So now we’ve got one, and now we go to Fenway.”
In the bigger picture, however, the Garcia injury — plus the 82-pitch effort in relief from Odorizzi, previously a leading candidate to start Game 4 for Houston, and the continued absences of injured veterans Lance McCullers Jr. and Justin Verlander — has the Astros facing an acute pitching shortage with as many as five games remaining in this series, which moves to Boston’s Fenway Park for the next three, beginning Monday night.
“We’ve got to try to figure it out," Astros Manager Dusty Baker said, shrugging when asked where his pitching staff goes from here. “... Every time you make a plan, it’s always foiled by something."
In the near term, depending upon the extent of Garcia’s injury, the Astros could apply for a medical roster-replacement for him, which, if granted, would allow them to activate a fresh arm at a time when they desperately need one — with their bullpen having covered 14⅓ innings over the first two games at Minute Maid Park.
“We’re not there yet,” Baker said of the decision on the status of Garcia, who was still being evaluated Saturday evening.
In the long term, well, things may get ugly.
On a perfect, sunny, 73-degree day — its sunbeams streaming through the giant windows atop the left field wall — the roof to Minute Maid Park remained closed Saturday, a choice that would have been inexplicable even if there weren’t a global pandemic to recommend being outdoors when possible.
As it happened, perhaps it was a good idea to leave the roof closed; the warmth of the sun would have only made the stench of the Astros’ performance that much worse.
Leadoff man José Altuve had not even made his way to the batter’s box for the first time before Houston was already in a four-run hole, courtesy of Martinez’s opposite-field grand slam off Garcia, a strapping, 24-year-old rookie right-hander with long, flowing locks dangling out the back of his cap.
When Garcia opened the second inning by issuing a four-pitch walk to Kevin Plawecki, Boston’s No. 8 hitter, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa jogged to the mound for what at first appeared to be a pep talk. But within seconds, Correa was motioning to Houston’s dugout for assistance, and moments later Garcia was walking off the mound with his trainer and manager, headed for the dugout and eventually the clubhouse.
Immediately, the thoughts of everyone in the building could be distilled to one question: Now what?
In the short term, the Astros’ answer was Odorizzi. By rule, a pitcher entering a game because of an injury is permitted as much time as he needs to get ready. Because Odorizzi is a starter by trade, with a well-honed and lengthy pregame routine, he took that allowance quite literally and performed a meticulous warmup on the Minute Maid Park infield with everyone else having little choice but to wait around for him.
“I was caught off guard by it,” Odorizzi said of being pressed into emergency duty. “My typical routine is out the window at that point. I hadn’t even stretched, thrown, anything. So it was going to take me a good while to warm up. I’m sure it felt like forever, but for me that was about the fastest I can warm up. It usually takes me 30-plus minutes, and I think I did it in under 15.”
Odorizzi also compared the process of warming up with the opposition watching him, as opposed to being in the sanctuary of the bullpen, to being “pretty much naked in front of the other team.”
“They get to watch every single pitch you’re throwing,” he said. “They get to see every shape, everything. It’s not an ideal way to warm up.”
Maybe Odorizzi should have taken even more time — because two of the first three Red Sox batters he faced in the second singled, setting the stage for Devers’s grand slam to right, just inside the Howie Kendrick Memorial Foul Pole.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a grand slam in the first and second,” Baker marveled. “. . . That’s a tremendous mountain to climb.”
By the time Hernandez homered off Odorizzi in the fourth, the sellout crowd of 41,476 had been shushed to an awkward silence. After going 2 for 4 on Saturday and reaching base a third time on a hit-by-pitch, Hernandez, an under-the-radar free agent signing this winter, is hitting .500 (16 for 32) this postseason, with more home runs (five) than the Atlanta Braves (four) had entering Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday night.
“The importance of [each] game is allowing me to stay focused and stay locked in and not think too much about it,” Hernandez said.
Nothing, not even a three-run rally by the home team against Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi in the fourth or assorted other threats the rest of the way, could bring the crowd back to life — although a full-throated singalong to “Friends in Low Places” in the fifth came close.
But that pressing question for the Astros — now what? — resonates well beyond Saturday’s fiasco.
Though they have right-hander Jose Urquidy, a veteran of the Astros’ 2019 and 2020 postseason runs, lined up to start Game 3 Monday night, Game 4 could come down to an uneasy choice between veteran Zack Greinke, who has been dealing with a neck injury and hasn’t started a game since Sept. 19, or Game 1 starter Framber Valdez, who would be pitching on short rest.
Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt, Mike Scott and Nolan Ryan were all said to be unavailable.
After the Astros went down in the ninth, ending a 4-hour 8-minute affair, the remaining fans filed out onto Texas Street and into the heart of a crisp Saturday night. The smart ones among them might have considered loosening up their throwing arms at some point — you know, just in case.