Gregory Bull/Associated Press
After losing the first three games of the American League Championship Series, the Houston Astros have forced a winner-take-all Game 7 following their 7-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night at Petco Park.
The Astros are the second team in MLB history to force a Game 7 after falling behind 0-3 in a playoff series. The 2004 Boston Red Sox were the first to accomplish the feat when they defeated the New York Yankees in the ALCS en route to winning the World Series.
After being shut out for four innings by Blake Snell, Houston’s offense came to life in the fifth with four runs. The Astros added at least one run in each of the next two innings to turn what looked like a tense pitchers’ duel into a lopsided victory.
The Rays offense wasn’t exactly lighting up early in the series, with 11 runs through the first three games, but it has gotten colder with 10 total runs in the team’s three losses.
Notable Game Stats
- Jose Altuve (HOU): 2-for-3, 2B, RBI, 2 R, 2 BB
- Framber Valdez (HOU): 6 IP, 3 H, ER, 3 BB, 9 K
- Carlos Correa (HOU): 3-for-5, RBI
- Blake Snell (TB): 4 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K
- Mike Brosseau (TB): 0-for-4, 3 K
- Randy Arozarena (TB): 0-for-3, BB
- Diego Castillo (TB): 1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, BB
Playoff-Tested Astros on Brink of History
Even though the Astros’ portrayal of themselves as plucky underdogs fighting against everyone who doubted them is laughable after they cheated during the 2017 playoffs, there is something to be said for where this team stands right now.
Framber Valdez, who didn’t make Houston’s playoff roster in 2019 after posting a 5.86 ERA in 26 appearances, has been everything the squad needed and more. The 26-year-old southpaw followed up his Game 1 gem with an even better showing Friday.
The Astros rotation had the potential to fall apart in 2020. Justin Verlander only made one start and will miss all of next season after undergoing Tommy John surgery Sept. 30. Zack Greinke dealt with soreness in his arm after Game 1 against the Minnesota Twins in the Wild Card Series.
Even though Houston is without Verlander and a limited Greinke, the Rays have only scored four runs or more against one Astros starter in the series (Lance McCullers Jr. in Game 2).
The offense’s quick-strike capability has been another aspect of Houston’s comeback.
The Astros once again made Snell work hard, even though he kept them off the board for the first four innings. He allowed at least one baserunner in three of those frames.
Houston’s breakthrough moment came when Rays manager Kevin Cash pulled his ace after Yuli Gurriel walked and Aledmys Diaz singled to start the fifth inning.
The Astros have relied mostly on their pitching to win. They only scored four runs in each of their first two victories in the ALCS, but this performance was a reminder that their offense remains loaded with talent that can score in bunches.
If Friday was an indication the offense has solved the Rays pitching, Game 7 should be a historic celebration for the Astros as they head back to the World Series.
Cash’s Quick Hook Puts Rays on Brink
It’s easy to second-guess moves that happen during games, but it’s telling when a player questions what his manager is doing.
Snell was clearly unhappy when Cash took him out in the fourth inning:
Even though there’s an argument for pulling your starter in that spot—after the first two batters of the inning reached and he was getting close to facing the top of the order for the third time—Snell did work his way out of trouble earlier.
Kyle Tucker and Gurriel walked in consecutive at-bats in the top of the second inning, but Snell got Diaz to ground out to shortstop Willy Adames.
Cash has had a quick hook with his starters because the bullpen has been so effective. The Rays ranked 26th in MLB with 258 innings from their starting staff this season, though they finished fourth in strikeout rate (10.08 per nine innings) and tied for sixth with a 3.77 ERA.
Once Cash went to his relievers, the wheels came off for Tampa Bay.
Diego Castillo has been Tampa’s best reliever outside of Nick Anderson all season. The right-hander had a 1.66 ERA in 22 appearances and didn’t allow a run in his first six playoff appearances, but appearance No. 7 was the unlucky one.
The Rays don’t have the offense to make up for pitching struggles. Austin Meadows has been limited to pinch-hitting duties while recovering from an oblique injury. The top four hitters in Tampa’s lineup combined to go 1-for-14 with eight strikeouts.
Cash’s decision to remove Snell when he did may have been the right call, but it now looms large over the series with his team one loss away from being on the wrong side of history.
The Astros and Rays will play Game 7 of the ALCS on Saturday at 8:37 p.m. ET on TBS.