BOSTON — The mental side of Astros pitcher Framber Valdez’s game has been the primary reason he has made the transformation from a fledgling Major Leaguer who struggled with his control in 2018 and ’19 to one of the most productive left-handers in the game the last two seasons.
Valdez’s work following the ’19 season with psychologist Andy Nunez in his native Dominican Republic helped him focus on the mound and slow the game down. So when the Astros were batting around in the sixth inning of Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday night at Fenway Park, Valdez closed his eyes and did some meditation in the dugout to clear his mind.
“I hit a reset button by letting go of whatever happened the inning prior to that, and after I do that, I focus on what batters are coming next,” Valdez said. “Visualizing myself and what I want to do.”
Few others could have visualized Valdez being able to put the Astros on his broad shoulders and lead them to a 9-1 win over the Red Sox in Game 5 of the ALCS with a masterful performance. Houston returns home for Game 6 on Friday needing one win to reach the World Series for the third time in five seasons.
“Like I said before the game, everybody talks about momentum, but momentum is controlled by the pitcher,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.
Relying on his sinker and curveball, Valdez threw eight innings, allowing three hits and one walk with five strikeouts in one of the Astros’ best outings of the season. Houston starting pitchers had thrown just a combined 6 2/3 innings in the first four games of the ALCS, including 2 2/3 innings by Valdez in Game 1.
“I had a really ugly outing and I felt humiliated after that first outing,” he said. “I set my mind on not letting it happen again. I did everything I could, worked as hard as I possibly could to come back and have success in this outing, because I didn’t want something like that to happen again. I was dead set on turning it around.”
In postseason series with the current 2-3-2 format that have been tied 2-2, teams winning Game 5 on the road before going back home for Games 6 and 7 have finished off the series win 18 of 23 times (78 percent). This excludes 2020, when the LCS and World Series were played at neutral sites.
“You can feel confident all you want to, but those guys are going to fight you until the end,” Baker said.