From Sinaloa to Houston, closer Osuna and Urquidy find home with Astros

NEW YORK – Astros closer Roberto Osuna is usually behind the wheel. The single-cab, red Ram truck is his, after all, but there are days when he asks his roommate José Urquidy to get behind the wheel for their drive to work.

They have known each other for more than half their lives, dating back to the first time they represented their Sinaloa state team in their native Mexico. Now they’re in the American League Championship Series hoping to help the Astros defeat the Yankees.

Urquidy, the first native of Mexico developed into a major leaguer professionally through the Astros’ farm system, was considered an option to start Game 4 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium. That potential assignment was nixed when a rainout pushed Game 4 from Wednesday to Thursday night, giving manager AJ Hinch the opportunity to start veteran superstar Zack Greinke on normal rest.

So Urquidy will sit in the visitors’ bullpen at Yankee Stadium until the Astros turn the keys over to him. Osuna, who lets his longtime friend live with him, is more likely to pitch.

Osuna has pitched in the last two games of the ALCS, throwing 1 ⅔ scoreless innings to help keep the score tied in the ninth and 10th innings before Carlos Correa walked off the Yankees in the 11th. He returned to the mound for Game 3 with a scoreless inning to earn the save.

Urquidy has pitched in only one postseason game so far, throwing 1 ⅔ scoreless innings in his playoff debut in Game 4 of the Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays. The rookie righthander has gotten his chance on the playoff roster in part because veteran starter Wade Miley stumbled badly down the stretch.

Osuna plays a more prominent role as the Astros’ closer and as a mentor to his friend Urquidy. Although the 24-year-old Osuna is less than two months older than Urquidy, he is the clear mentor with five seasons, one All-Star berth and 154 saves already on his resume.

Urquidy, 24, made his big league debut on July 2 for the Astros. He shuttled between Houston and Class AAA Round Rock before finishing with a 2-1 record and 3.95 ERA over nine games, seven starts.

Osuna, the nephew of former Dodgers reliever Antonio Osuna, welcomed Urquidy to Houston, opened his home to him and shares his insights daily.

“We always have the mentality to win, to compete and help each other,” Urquidy said. “He gives me a lot of advice on how to throw and how to face batters because the batters here are truly ready for everything. He gives me a lot of advice and that’s truly something that I appreciate.”

The Sinaloenses first met at 11 years old when they represented their state in youth tournaments. They represented their state over parts of three years.

In a country where the beautiful game of soccer reigns supreme, Osuna and Urquidy are part of a golden generation of baseball players from the land of banda music and some of the best seafood in North America.

Osuna, Urquidy and the Dodgers’ left-handed phenom Julio Urias all played together on the Sinaloa team. Urias was arguably the most hyped Mexican prospect since the legendary Fernando Valenzuela captivated both sides of the border during his Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award-winning 1981 season.

“He’s from Los Mochis and I’m from Mazatlan, and we would often meet in tournaments,” Urquidy said of Osuna. “That’s when we played together. We played like three tournaments. It was me, him and Urias and a few other players that are playing in the Mexican League.

“Like normal kids, we just tried to have fun. Obviously our fathers were there supporting us. We always had the dream to play in the big leagues. We were some of the ones who performed the most. That was always our dream, and we’ve achieved that dream.”

Injuries have stalled Urias’ sprint to prominence to a slow jog. Osuna is the most accomplished of the trio. He became the youngest pitcher in Major League Baseball history to collect 100 saves on April 10, 2018, at 23 years, 62 days old. He had already become the youngest player to record a save on Opening Day in 2016 at 21.

As the closer, Osuna usually pitches with the game on the line. He was 4-3 with a 2.63 ERA and 38 saves over 66 appearances in the regular season.

Heading into Game 4, he had pitched 2 ⅔ scoreless innings with one save and two strikeouts in two appearances in the ALCS.

“I know one pitch changes the game,” Osuna said. “Those are situations when you can’t make a mistake, but you’re human and make mistakes, and that’s when those things happen. One prepares to be the closest to perfect. Nobody is perfect. It will happen, but you cannot lose your mind.”

Fortunately for Osuna, he has a childhood friend to lean on in the Astros’ dugout.

Osuna may have more experience, but they both benefit from having each other in the dugout. They trust and support each other.

They’ve been friends for more than half their lives, and that reassuring bond helps ease some of the pressure from playing in the majors.

In many ways, they have created a support system similar to the one created by Cuban veterans Yuli Gurriel and Aledmys Diaz for rookie Yordan Alvarez.

“I’m glad we have more than one Cuban because they’ve sort of formed a little community here in the clubhouse,” Astros president of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow said. “Just like we have more than one Mexican. They’ve formed their community. Everybody has relationships with players from other places, but it’s nice when you have more than one because they kind of feel they have somebody there they can count on.”

Featured Image: Jean Fruth / La Vida Baseball