Players-only meeting helps Astros get their groove back

Washington (AFP) –


A players-only meeting helped the Houston Astros solidify their confidence in one another after two shock home losses, setting up a Friday victory in the World Series to rejuvenate their championship chances.

The Astros beat Washington 4-1 to pull within 2-1 in the best-of-seven Major League Baseball final with games four and five in Washington on Saturday and Sunday.

"It kind of re-establishes us," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "They threw a big punch at us in the beginning of this series.

"We've got enough experience and enough feel about how series go that we knew (if) we win today, get a little bit of mojo back on our side, a little bit of momentum, start to swing the bats a little bit better, it was a huge win to sort of re-energize us."

At the heart of the triumph was an airing of concerns everyone on the team was feeling after falling behind 2-0 with home defeats, a hole only three teams have ever escaped from to win the title.

"Some guys said some things I think a lot of us maybe were thinking in our heads but it's sometimes nice to hear them out loud," Astros relief pitcher Will Harris said.

"The biggest thing was we didn't want anybody feeling sorry for themselves coming in here because that's not going to accomplish anything. That was the message."

The Astros, seeking their second title in three seasons, knew no club has ever won a World Series after falling behind 3-0.

"Every man in there was aware of where we were and understood that to do your job today as well as you could was very important," Harris said. "A lot of energy in our dugout and we expect to carry that over to tomorrow.

"We believe in each other in there."

Four-time All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley, who singled in two runs, said the team meeting let leaders seize the moment.

"We have a lot of veteran leaders in our locker room that have been here before, a lot of guys that played in the World Series and know what it takes," Brantley said.

"We have a lot of faith in each other, a lot of confidence in one another. Just wanted to make sure we know we still had it, were still going to play as a team.

"This is a team effort. Everyone is picking up one another regardless of who is at the plate or what's going on. We've got to come out and play a good game tomorrow, set the tone and play as a team."

- Urquidy ready for start -

Houston's 24-year-old Mexican rookie right-hander Jose Urquidy -- who has allowed one run in 4 1/3 innings over two playoff games -- will start Saturday's game four, in which the Astros are expected to dig deep into their bullpen against Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin.

"Just right now after the game ended the manager told me I was going to have the ball," Urquidy said. "I'm living the dream. I'm very happy. Very few Mexicans have had this opportunity. I'll try to take advantage of it as much as possible.

"I know they are very good hitters. They attack very good. I'll give it my best stuff, pitch by pitch."

Urquidy is ready for the challenge, according to Brantley.

"I don't think the stage is too big for him," Brantley said. "The way he talks. The way he prepares."

- Taubman no distraction -

The firing of team executive Brandon Taubman over intimidating remarks made to women reporters has not been an issue to the players, Harris said.

"That has nothing to do with really anybody in our clubhouse," he said. "That was a completely isolated issue that didn't involve a player so none of us are really concerned with any of that kind of stuff."

Of huge concern is Nationals slugger Juan Soto, who was silenced on his 21st birthday.

"We're going to try to adapt to him," Hinch said. "Our pitchers did a good job of mixing. We didn't stay in one area. We didn't get him out the same way twice."