Baseball nightmares are almost a reality.
The Astros, who fired their manager and general manager in January after an MLB investigation found they cheated on their World Series title three years ago, are now a winner from returning to the Fall Classic.
Houston again withdrew on Friday night, winning their third straight in the reeling Rays, 7-4, in Game 6 of the ALCS at Petco Park in San Diego. They will be looking to complete the unlikely return series on Saturday night.
“This team fought big-time,” manager Dusty Baker said. “You have to love this team – or some people hate this team, but at least you have to respect this team.”
On Friday, the Astros used four run five innings to start another win, taking advantage of some hard work on the Rays bullpen ̵1; and then held for a win.
With Game 6 wins, the Astros became the only team to force a Game 7 after falling 3-0 in a series in the postseason, joining the 2004 Red Sox, beating the Yankees in that ALCS.
“We are relentless,” Carlos Correa said. “When we say we don’t want to go home, we really mean it. We took care of these three games. We have to win another one. If we don’t win it, it all makes no sense.”
The Rays led in the second with Willy Adames’ RBI doubles.
Tampa Bay starter Blake Snell fought his command early, but effectively. However, the left hand was grasped after the first two batters reached the fifth.
Diego Castillo entered without a fight and Martin Maldonado criticized the runners. With the infield in, George Springer knocked on one side to drive Yuli Gurriel and Aledyms Diaz and give Houston a 2-1 advantage.
Jose Altuve then finished with a double left and Springer easily scored when Brandon Lowe, usually an infielder, but playing on the left field, threw the ball in the second.
Castillo, very effective outside of the ballpoint pen in almost every playoffs – especially against the Yankees in the ALDS – then Michael Brantley walked into four pitches. Correa sent a single RBI to leave to complete the rally, while Houston climbed, 4-1.
Kyle Tucker extended the lead in four runs by starting at the top of the sixth with a homer, but Tampa Bay threatened under caution.
It started with Hunter Renfroe’s one-out single from Framber Valdez. Yandy Diaz walked on a 3-2 pitch and started yelling at Valdez as he first walked. Valdez and Diaz had jaws before the umpires – and Correa – helped alleviate the situation.
But just as the Rays had Valdez on the ropes, the young left responded by getting the struggling Lowe to the ground in an incoming double play.
The Astros faced two more runs in the seventh, but Manuel Margot’s homer to start the bottom of the seventh was 7-2. Margot later took a two-out, two-run shot to take the Rays 7-4, forcing Baker to approach his close, Ryan Pressly, for a third straight night – meaning he could he is not available for Game 7.
The job was done quickly – slightly – allowing a one-out hit to pinch Yoshi Tsutsugo before ALDS hero Mike Brosseau crashed into a double play to end it, with Randy Arozarena on the deck.
Houston will move to Lance McCullers, Jr. on Saturday, along with Tampa Bay with former Astro Charlie Morton, with a ride on the World Series line.
“This is not the scenario we want,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said of the three consecutive defeats. “But it’s an elastic group.”