Only the 2004 Boston Red Sox have come back from an 0-3 series deficit in MLB postseason history to win a best-of-seven series. They may be getting some company.
Tucker: Bangs elbows with Correa
(c) Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle
Framber Valdez allowed just one run in six innings while a four-run fifth vaulted Houston to a 7-4 victory Friday over Tampa Bay in San Diego to square the A.L.C.S. and put the tightening collars squarely on the blue-clad Rays for a decisive seventh game with the American League Championship on the line. It should be noted that the current Luhnow-Click version of the Astros is 3-1 in Game 7s and have won two of the past three A.L. pennants. In addition, they won a decisive Game 5 over Tampa in the A.L.D.S. last season.
But that's all prologue.
The Rays grabbed the early lead in the second when a two-out double by Willy Adames plated Brandon Lowe. The score stayed that way into the fifth.
Tampa ace Blake Snell didn't have his best stuff but he hadn't allowed a run in his first four frames. That was about to change. Slumping Yuli Gurriel walked to open the fifth then Aledmys Diaz rolled a single to left. Rays manager Kevin Cash pulled his lefthander after just 82 pitches. Snell seemed most unhappy about the move and would get more unhappy as Diego Castillo got knocked around.
Martin Maldonado bunted over the runners (do they still do that?) then George Springer beat the shift with an opposite-field bouncer through the infield to get both runners home. Jose Altuve then launched a fly into the left field corner for an RBI double and Carlos Correa smacked a seeing-eye single to left for a 4-1 lead.
Live by the shift. Die by the shift.
Kyle Tucker led off the sixth with a homer over the fence in left-center. It appears after previous dugout home run celebrations have made notice, Houston's latest is a simulated penguin dance, no doubt inspired by all the social distancing rules.
The two clubs started jawing after Valdez sent a curveball to Yandy Diaz for ball four that put two aboard. Correa, who has grown into a vocal leader this season, took over the situation, cooling down Diaz then getting in Valdez' face about staying in the game. Valdez responded by coaxing a room-service double play ball from Lowe to retire the side. That would be the end of the night for Framber at 101 pitches.
Michael Brantley knocked in Altuve in the seventh then, after a double from Correa, Tucker sent Brantley home with a sacrifice fly to build the lead to 7-1. Manuel Margot hit a pair of home runs too late which closed the final margin. Ryan Pressly needed just nine pitches to wrap up the save.
Two hurlers with Game 7 experience will square off Saturday night in the decisive game. Charlie Morton outdueled Lance McCullers in Monday's Game 2 contest where the former Astro tossed five shutout innings. McCullers worked seven innings and struck out eleven but allowed four runs and took the loss.
After the fifth, Tampa did not use their best relievers in order to save them for Saturday. The Astros, meanwhile, finished with Cristian Javier and Pressly which may limit their availability for Saturday.
The winner moves on to the World Series in Arlington next week to face the National League champs, either Atlanta or Los Angeles. Just to have that chance must seem huge right now for the Astros.
- Bob Hulsey