Astros Not Dead Yet; Correa HR Forces Game 6

Correa: Greeted at plate for game-winner
(c) Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle
As Carlos Correa's walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth sailed over the center field fence at Petco Park and into the California night, Correa was not ready yet to begin running it out. He knew it was gone. The 4-3 triumph Thursday staved off elimination for one more day, forcing a Game Six in the best-of-seven A.L.C.S. against the Tampa Bay Rays. The first pitch on Friday is slated for 5:07 pm Central, an hour later than Thursday's start.

The critical Game 5 was a "bullpen day" as both managers, exhausted for starting pitching, turned to their relievers to find 27 outs. George Springer staked them to a 1-0 lead as he walloped the first pitch of the game into the left field seats for a leadoff homer. After rounding the bases, Springer paused to acknowledge third base coach Gary Pettis who was in the owners' box in street clothes while battling multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. Hate the Astros if you must, but that was a classy moment.

So the first pitch was a Houston homer and the last pitch was a Houston homer. Here's what happened in between:

Luis Garcia, whose big league career is so minimal the details wouldn't fill a baseball card, pitched two hitless innings in his postseason debut. Reliever Blake Taylor wasn't so fortunate as Brandon Lowe launched the first of three Tampa solo shots which tied the game at one apiece in the third. Michael Brantley responded with a two-run single off lefty Josh Flemming which plated Josh Reddick then catcher Martin Maldonado seemed to cross the plate in slow motion as the throw home made two lazy hops reaching its destination. Houston was up, 3-1.

Next came Tampa blasts from the magnifcient Randy Arozarena in the fifth off Enoli Paredes and from Ji-Man Choi in the eighth off Josh James (an estimated 447-foot rocket) that tied the game at three each.

Nick Anderson, Tampa's top reliever with an 0.55 ERA on the regular season, retired Alex Bregman on a pop up before Correa scorched a 1-1 fastball into downtown San Diego.

Along with the obvious importance, the victory was big for two reasons. First, the Houston bullpen allowed just three runs over seven innings, a confidence boost plus they did not need to be extended into extra innings thanks to Correa. Now the Astros can turn back to Framber Valdez for Game 6 while the Rays counter with Blake Snell.

Secondly, a walk-off win screams "karma" has switched jerseys. After three straight losses, many probably believed the Astros were doomed. Two straight wins, however, has to change the psyche in both clubhouses.

Winning four straight against the team with the best record in the league is a tall order but the Astros are halfway there. The swag is back. Now we'll see if karma stays around too.

- Bob Hulsey