WASHINGTON (AP) — Michael Brantley pulled up a chair and waited.
Hours after his two big hits propelled the Houston Astros to victory in Game 3 of the World Series, the veteran outfielder put his foot up and listened as a young teammate expressed confidence about his chance to make a mark on this Fall Classic. Brantley waited more than a decade to play this deep into the postseason. What’s a few more minutes?
Brantley wondered a lot through the years — and the injuries — if he’d get this opportunity. Healthy at the most important time, Brantley isn’t letting it go to waste, hitting two run-scoring singles Friday night to help Houston beat the Washington Nationals 4-1 and cut its World Series deficit to 2-1.
“It means a lot,” Brantley said. “Any time you get to help your team win a game, especially in the World Series of this magnitude, a lot of hard work pays off. I didn’t get here by myself.”
After waiting so long to play on this stage, Brantley went 2 for 4 and was a big part of the Astros reversing their dreadful trend with runners in scoring position. Manager AJ Hinch could have put hot-hitting rookie Yordan Álvarez in left field hoping for a timely hit or two, but he stuck with the sure-handed Brantley.
He was steady as ever.
Brantley singled off starter Aníbal Sánchez in the third and fifth innings and was intentionally walked in the sixth so he couldn’t do more damage. He’s 5 for 12 in the World Series, which is becoming a showcase of the 32-year-old as a professional hitter.
He blooped an 0-2 pitch from Sánchez into left field for Houston’s first run of the night and perfectly timed a 3-1 changeup to lace a single to right and restore a two-run lead.
“He’s been playing the game for a while, and I’ve been watching him when I was growing up,” Astros teammate Kyle Tucker said. “One, his swing’s good. Two, his approach is one of the best. He makes a lot of contact within the strike zone. There’s not whole lot of guys like him.”
Houston entered the game hitting .175 this postseason with runners in scoring position. Brantley led the way as the club went 4 for 10 in those key spots Friday.
Brantley has seen this spotlight up close, just not in uniform. A right shoulder surgery sidelined him during the 2016 World Series, when his Cleveland Indians teammates lost to the Chicago Cubs in seven games.
He was used to sitting out by then, of course. A right wrist injury and hand surgery ended his 2011 season, sports hernia surgery was his reward for getting through 2012, right shoulder surgeries spoiled 2015 and 2016, and a right ankle strain hampered him in 2017.
Those injuries easily could have derailed Brantley’s career, especially the shoulder problems.
“Any time you have a major surgery, getting back to this level is not easy,” Brantley said. “This is a very competitive place. It’s the top of the line. It’s the best in the world competing against one another. But with the faith in my family and my friends and all the people that helped me along the way, I’m just very appreciative of everybody taking time out of their life to help me.”
With that help, Brantley bounced back and has been an All-Star three years in a row. He hit .309 with 17 home runs and 76 RBIs last season, his final with Cleveland before signing a $32 million, two-year deal to join the Astros.
Brantley was even better this season with 22 home runs and 90 RBIs. This is the first playoffs he’s been able to get past the first round, and thanks to a couple of timely hits, Brantley guaranteed the Astros will play at least two more games in this World Series.
“We have a lot of confidence in that locker room,” Brantley said. “You don’t win as many games as we have and gone through the tough series we have to go through to be here.”
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