On Wednesday, Astro fans were facing the fact that their team had overperformed to beat the Twins and the A’s, and had not quite performed as well as the Rays in falling into a seemingly hopeless 0-3 pit in the ALCS. The man who had been the 2017 AL MVP and had walked off the ALCS in 2019, Jose Altuve had suddenly lost the ability to throw accurately to a base. The Astros had outhit the Rays, but the Rays had squeaked out 3 wins with timely hitting, decent pitching and unworldly defense.
But things turned around in that Wednesday game starting with a first-inning home run by the goat of Games 2 and 3, Altuve. Altuve then followed with a run-scoring double in the third inning. And of course, George Springer tried to launch one out of the stadium in the fifth inning giving the team a 4-2 lead.
The key to the game may have been when Dusty Baker did not pull Zack Greinke in the 6th inning with the bases loaded and he rewarded the manager by escaping with the lead. Cristian Javier plowed through the 7th and 8th innings and Ryan Pressly came in for a relief stint that allowed the Rays to pull within one run and left a runner 90 feet short of a tie. In this ninth inning, it was the Astros catching a couple screaming line drives from the Rays and with that, a small sliver of hope rose in Astro fans’ hearts after a 4-3 win.
On Thursday, George Springer hit the first pitch the Astros saw from the Rays and Carlos Correa in heroics reminiscent of his Game 2 walk-off in the 2019 ALCS, hit the last pitch the Astros saw this night. In between, there was a chess game of two managers attempting to get 27 outs from purely bullpen pieces. This was supposedly the Rays’ forte as they had the superior bullpen coming into this series, but the Astros bullpen under the direction of Dusty Baker held their own. He rolled out four rookies to cover the first 5.2 innings. Four rookies who had on the average, less than 20 innings of MLB regular-season experience. Before this year Luis Garcia had never pitched above A+ ball. Blake Taylor had made it to AAA. Enoli Paredes and Andre Scrubb had never pitched above AA. But in a critical win or go home match, these four pitchers held the rope and handed over a lead.
So, now the Astros head to Game 6 and hopefully Game 7 with the top of their playoff rotation, Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers Jr. ready to roll. Only 4 of the 39 teams that started 0-3 in a playoff series have made it to Game 6. Only one, the miracle Red Sox, have come all the way back. The pressure has now oozed back onto the Rays. Can the Astros continue their ways? We can say they have exceeded our expectations, but deep down we can picture this team doing the almost impossible. The next day or two will be interesting and potentially historical.