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Decision to keep Dallas Keuchel in to face A-Rod pays off for Astros

Houston Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel (60) talks

Houston Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel (60) talks with Houston Astros catcher Jason Castro (15) on the mound at Yankee Stadium during the American League wild-card game on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. Credit: Newsday/ Thomas A. Ferrara

Alex Rodriguez called him "Greg Maddux from the left side," one of many tributes to Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel to come out of a frustrated Yankees locker room.

But after the Astros' 3-0 victory in the American League wild-card game, Keuchel himself thought back to Rodriguez and his role in Tuesday night's most dramatic moment.

With two outs and two on and Houston leading 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning, A-Rod strode to the plate while Astros manager, A.J. Hinch strode to the mound.

After some discussion, Hinch left his starter in the game for one last batter. Good idea. Rodriguez flied out to centerfield to end the threat.

"The stadium was rocking, that's for sure," Keuchel said. "A-Rod's coming up. Doesn't get any more exciting than that. The job he's done throughout his career at Yankee Stadium, I just tried to calm myself down and make as good a pitch as I could.

"I knew with his first-pitch swing, his second at-bat, I was definitely throwing a cutter. I knew if I could elevate it or get it middle-in, I had a good shot to just have him pop it up and luckily that's what he did.

"But I was playing blackjack there, and it paid off."

Hinch called the decision to leave in Keuchel "a tough one." But he said he wanted to "check the heartbeat, look in his eyes a little bit, obviously gather a little bit of information when I'm out there."

Hinch said: "That's probably the most adrenaline I've had in this chair in my short managerial career, because you're at Yankee Stadium, it's the sixth inning and Alex Rodriguez [is up] and you have potentially the Cy Young Award winner on the mound. So what a great moment, and I'm really happy that it turned out in our favor for everyone involved."

Keuchel surprised no one with his six shutout innings -- certainly not the Yankees, who finished 2015 with no runs in 22 innings against him.

But there was some uncertainty about how Keuchel would respond to his first professional start on three days' rest. Not too badly, it turned out. He allowed three hits, struck out seven and walked one, throwing 87 pitches.

Did it feel any different to him?

"Felt like playoff baseball," he said. "It's hard not to get up for a game like this. If I had a chance to take the ball in the wild-card game, I didn't want to let my teammates down. I've worked so hard the last four years in the big leagues, especially with rebuilding our team.

"I knew if we had a shot, I was going to give everything I possibly could in any game that I needed to pitch in. I was thankful to get through six."

Keuchel said he did nothing unusual in approaching the game on short rest.

"Absolutely not," he said. "It didn't take me too much to get up for this game. Everybody's been battling 162 games-plus, and I knew I wasn't the only one tired. So it's playoff baseball. Doesn't get any better.

"The taste of champagne and the beer in your eyes, I want more of it."

New York Sports