A.J. HINCH: Today's not an elimination game so they can relax.
It's important for us to play well from the very beginning. But we have seen it, we were that team in 2015 where we got the Wild Card win, we got pretty hot, we didn't close the series out. But they have had to play with a sense of urgency for a long time, and I think at the end of the season when they were trying to chase down the title, the AL East title, those were playoff games for those guys. We had a little taste of that at the end of the season against Boston before we played the Division Series.
But at this time of year, all the momentum or who is playing well, who is not playing well, I mean, it's you have to believe and trust and watch everyone stand up and play well and be ready.
There's so much excitement around series like this. Obviously they're coming in, and just when you think their bullpen's going to be tired or a couple of their hitters that have hit well or haven't hit well, the batting average and OPS and everything goes to zero, the ERA's go to zero. This is a new series, a new fresh start for both sides. And things can change in a heartbeat for the better or the worst.
Q. The importance of Bregman, he took over at short when Correa went down. And also how his bat became almost like Biggio-esque the last two months of the season.
A.J. HINCH: Well, Bregman's a really good player and is part of our story that can get overlooked unless you've been around our city like you have. I think that he's a real baseball player, real baseball rat, baseball enthusiast, does everything well. He's one of the most prepared guys that we have, and he has no fear at all of any competition, of any pitcher-hitter confrontation. He doesn't fear failure, he believes in himself more than anybody believes in him.
So some people will call that a chip on the shoulder, some people will call that a competitive edge, but he's a gamer through and through, he's a winning player. And when we needed him this season, which was virtually all six months at different positions or different parts of the batting order, he was pretty exceptional.
So when Correa was hurt he could move over, when we're fully intact he's a sneak attack guy near the bottom of the order. He'll hit pretty high in the order against left-handed pitching, and he never changes, he's always got energy.
Q. The Yankees impressed a lot of people this year with how many pitchers they have that throw so hard. Tomorrow in addition to having a bullpen they're going to have Severino who can reach a hundred miles an hour. But the Astros have hit fastball pitchers and hard throwers very well this year. Do you expect that it's not actually going to be such an issue for your team?
A.J. HINCH: Well, it will be an issue if they locate their pitches. Well-executed pitches will -- is more important than stuff. But these guys can come at you relentlessly with really good stuff and high-end velocity.
These guys make it look easy, some of our guys make it look easy, when they throw they make it look easy. But I would offer any of you the opportunity to come down and see what a hundred looks like. It's tough. If you're not ready to hit in a certain location you're not going to cover every pitch.
So whether it's a challenge or not I think is what we're mapped out over the next seven games, if it needs that many games, to see if we can combat their velocity or if they can combat our ball in play skills.
Q. Bill O'Brien said earlier that you and him had traded texts, you were wishing support for him, vice-versa, but he said emphatically it will make his day or his life if you beat the Yankees.
A.J. HINCH: Okay. That's good. We have Bill O'Brien on our side, I know that. We have such a great sports city, Mike D'Antoni, Bill O'Brien, myself, we're all very close in our own ways as the head coaches or managers or whatever.
So I love his support. I go back and forth with him via text all the time. And I've yet to ask him if I can call plays or he's yet to set a batting order, but I know he's got my back, I've got his back. We want to bring championship-caliber sports teams to this great city. So we have had a pretty good run of it, there's been a lot of playoff teams in Houston over the last couple years and Houston fans are pretty lucky.
Q. We have asked you this question about different players throughout the year. Do you get a lot of juice from a Springer, asked about Reddick? It seems like we could ask the same thing about Bregman the last series and definitely this last one. Is that the case, you have so many guys that applies to?
A.J. HINCH: Poor me, I got too many good players to talk about.
No, a lot of guys get overlooked just because it might be somebody different every week. I think one of the beauties of our team is that any given day, Game 1 of the ALDS and Jose Altuve takes over and is the guy. Game 2 was Correa, Game 3 we won't talk about. Game 4, it was the quality at-bats from Reddick and Beltran and Justin Verlander's first career relief outing. That was pretty cool, wasn't it?
That type of depth and that type of sort of team makeup is one of the reasons that we have had a special season so far. And we're going to need somebody different tonight or maybe somebody the same, but as long as he's on our side carrying the night, that's what I care about.
Q. The night Verlander was deciding whether to come here, what was that waiting process like for you and what was it like the feeling just when it was over?
A.J. HINCH: It was agonizing not knowing because I texted back and forth, phone calls back and forth with Jeff, and it was on, it was off, it was on, it was off. I tried not to follow social media because that's a death trap for managers.
But I think for us the way it ended in him being so excited, by the time I got on the phone with him after midnight I couldn't go to sleep, I couldn't end the night because I was so excited trying to map out his next outing. I knew what it was going to mean to this team in here and the credentials that he was bringing into our clubhouse.
So I've got friends on the other side in Detroit that I knew how close we were in just making a deal and then the deal was off. That day was so complicated emotionally because we were coming back from being stranded in Tampa with the hurricane. So I was reunited with my family, sitting on the back patio and saying a few prayers to Jeff to close the deal and get Justin Verlander here. And boy, are we glad that we did.
Q. When Carlos Correa came up he was great from the start, Rookie of the Year and everything. But this year was even better. How has he improved over the years?
A.J. HINCH: He's matured as a player. And nowadays I think we want to see players be so good so soon, and when you're a rookie you're getting noticed from the day of the draft or the day you're signing. And the road map to the big leagues is quick nowadays.
To watch Carlos grow and mature and be able to handle the responsibility of being Carlos Correa has been very satisfying for me. He came up, he wears No. 1, he's coming up to a playoff team in 2015, and immediately gained credibility in our clubhouse with how he prepared, how he worked, and how he produced. So as that attention comes, oftentimes we care about how players handle failure, I care about how players handle success. There's never been a day that I've been his manager that he hasn't talked about trying to get better or trying to deal with his deficiencies or pitches that he struggles with or people attacking his defense at short stop or the responsibilities at home as he's grown and matured as a man.
So I'm proud of him because he's handling so much at such a young age and he's expected so much of himself, and he has some of the best times on our team. I've watched him mature as a person as well.
So I can't say enough positive things about him because of the road that he's taken thus far. And we're just scratching the surface, this kid could bona fide be the best player in baseball when all is said and done.
Q. Verlander arrived with a lot of acclaim, but statistically he also had so much more postseason experience than any pitcher you had. And he's shown already how much better he's made this team. Can you quantify how much he's improved the chances of this team getting deeper in the playoffs? I mean him singularly.
A.J. HINCH: Well, we'll see how he does Game 2 and potentially Game 6. But that's how he can help us the most. His production speaks for itself. I think what he's done on the field for us, he's been one of the hottest pitchers on the planet. So that's been nice to see.
Behind the scenes he's obviously a difference maker. He's just an attractive personality and players really do flock to him for anything from banter to tips on how they can get better.
So I don't know, how to measure that, how to put it in context. I mean, one of the best attributes he has is he just wants to be on our team and be part of what we're doing. He doesn't try to do too much, but he fits in perfectly.
So obviously having him join Dallas at the top of the rotation and give us a strong one-two punch to go along with a pretty strong pitching staff is what most postseason teams that go deep into the playoffs have. Now we need to go out and prove it.
Q. Altuve just told us that if he had a vote for MVP he would pick Judge. Since he won't sing his own praises, can you tell us why you think he should be MVP.
A.J. HINCH: Yet another reason why Jose Altuve is a perfect player. He's humble in his own accomplishments and very complimentary of others.
But again, I will always back Jose Altuve, I think in this regard I got to tell him he's wrong; Jose Altuve's the MVP. I'm biased, I love Aaron Judge and Jose Ramirez and Mike Trout, and the seasons that those guys had, but Jose was the most consistent player in the big leagues. From the very beginning, from April through September has really been the stable force of this team that won 101 games and in every facet of the game; offense, defense, base running, just the it factor that he comes with every single day. He's the best hitter in the game, he leads the league. Virtually every year we take 200 hits for granted, we take batting titles for granted around here now.
His MVP caliber season should be rewarded and hopefully will. That's at no disrespect to the other guys. It's no one did it as consistently as Jose.