• CREECH: GON­ZA­LEZ COMES UP CLUTCH.

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - SPORTS SUNDAY - jenny.creech@chron.com twit­ter.com/jen­ny­di­al­creech

Mar­win Gon­za­lez was al­ready hav­ing an ex­cep­tional day.

He had hits in his first two at-bats and was headed to the plate for his third. This time, there were two Astros on base — Jose Al­tuve and Alex Breg­man — and one out.

The Astros were down a run and needed to get some­thing go­ing.

Cleve­land de­cided to make a pitch­ing change just as Gon­za­lez headed to the plate. In­di­ans left­hander An­drew Miller en­tered the game to in re­lief of righthander starter Car­los Car­rasco, which sent Gon­za­lez to the other side of the plate.

The switch didn’t rat­tle the switch hit­ter as he lined a dou­ble to right field.

Al­tuve and Breg­man scored and the Astros took the lead.

Gon­za­lez would go on to fin­ish 4-of-4 en route to a 3-1 vic­tory for the Astros, who are up 2-0 in the best-of-five ALDS and head to Cleve­land for Game 3 on Mon­day.

Gon­za­lez is no stranger to big mo­ments, but it has been awhile since he has had one.

“I think ev­ery­one re­mem­bers World Se­ries Game 2,” Breg­man said while sit­ting next to Gon­za­lez on Sat­ur­day.

Beat­ing the odds

It’s true. Gon­za­lez’s post­sea­son could have been for­get­table last year with­out the ninthin­ning home run that sparked the Astros’ Game 2 win in Los An­ge­les. It would go down as one of the great­est mo­ments of the play­offs for the champs last year.

So on Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon, when he was ob­vi­ously feel­ing it, no one was re­ally sur­prised to see Gon­za­lez step up and pro­duce.

“He’s been clutch for us for a long time,” Breg­man said.

Gon­za­lez, who will be a free agent this off­sea­son, has been work­ing all sea­son on his swing from both sides of the plate.

On Sat­ur­day, he’d been great early, rip­ping two early sin­gles off Car­rasco.

When In­di­ans man­ager Terry Fran­cona made the pitch­ing change, the odds were stacked against Gon­za­lez. Miller is a lefty and one who has given Gon­za­lez fits. Be­fore Sat­ur­day, he was 1-for-8 with six strike­outs against Miller.

‘What a sweet hit’

Gon­za­lez didn’t say if he was aware of his his­tory against Miller. It didn’t seem to mat­ter to him.

He was a lit­tle sur­prised to see the pitch­ing change, but he re­acted quickly and made the most of it.

“I’ve just been swing­ing from the right side just a lit­tle bit, es­pe­cially be­cause (Car­los) Cor­rea is be­hind me and (Yuli Gur­riel) is in front of me,” Gon­za­lez said. “So I didn’t think that they were go­ing to bring a lefty to face me. Well, I was lucky that I got the pitch and got the runs to win the game.” Lucky? Maybe a lit­tle. More likely, he was just do­ing what he seems to do best. Adapt­ing.

That has been the strength of Gon­za­lez for years now.

He can play al­most any po­si­tion. He can hit an ar­ray of pitch­ers. He doesn’t rat­tle eas­ily or lose con­trol.

The be­gin­ning of this sea­son wasn’t es­pe­cially strong for him, but he worked at it. He has never emerged as one of the Astros’ star play­ers, but he has con­trib­uted in a lot of ways to the team’s suc­cess.

He’s play­ing for a ti­tle re­peat and also for a new con­tract next sea­son.

Gon­za­lez is a good guy to have around and proves it just about ev­ery time he be­comes an af­ter­thought on a team full of su­per­stars.

Af­ter the go-ahead hit, Gon­za­lez didn’t stop. He sin­gled one more time in the eighth in­ning to fin­ish the day with four hits, ty­ing the fran­chise record for most in a post­sea­son game with Gur­riel, Cor­rea, Car­los Bel­tran and Terry Puhl.

Gon­za­lez’s third hit was ex­actly what the Astros needed when they needed it. Start­ing pitcher Ger­rit Cole was do­ing an un­be­liev­able job. While the ma­jor­ity of his per­for­mance was dom­i­nant, he’d al­lowed one home run and the Astros trailed.

Cleve­land’s plan for Gon­za­lez was a good one. He hadn’t been good against Miller be­fore. But he de­liv­ered at the timeli­est of times.

“I mean, what a predica­ment,” Cole said. “He’s got two hits off Car­rasco at that point, and he’s also hav­ing the best year of his ca­reer from the right side part of the plate. So re­ally kind of puts you be­tween a rock and a hard place. He stepped up. What a sweet hit.”

Man­age­rial pat on the back

Gon­za­lez seemed to be re­lieved af­ter the game. It made sense. He has been work­ing to­ward a day like Sat­ur­day.

“I put a lot of work into the sea­son,” he said. “It was a tough sea­son for me on the of­fen­sive side, but this is base­ball. Every­body knows how hard it is, how hard it is to be con­sis­tent. I’ve been putting in a lot of work. It felt good to­day.”

Astros man­ager A.J. Hinch un­der­stands the beauty of his team more than any­one. He has said it over and over again this year and now it rings true in the post­sea­son. The Astros are dan­ger­ous be­cause they have so many weapons.

“I’m proud of him be­cause he’s had to fight and claw, and he’s been a huge part of our suc­cess, not only this year but in re­cent years,” Hinch said. “And that’s pretty awe­some to see him come through.”

Karen War­ren / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Mar­win Gon­za­lez lets out a shout af­ter rip­ping a two-run dou­ble in the sixth in­ning to give the Astros the lead Sat­ur­day.

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