By Arnie Leshin
Back-to-back wins in order to survive, both by one run, and capped by Carlos Correa’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning for the Houston Astros Thursday to trim the Tampa Bay Rays’ lead in the American League best-of-seven Championship Series to 3-2.
Game six is today at Petco Park in San Diego, 4:07 p.m. scheduled start on TBS, and whereas the top-seeded Rays had taken the first three games, it’s now a 2-game series after manager Dusty Baker, now 71 and in his first year with Houston, has brought his new team back into play with back-to-back 4-3 victories, this one in which he installed nine pitchers, five of whom are rookies.
Ryan Pressly, the seventh hurler, got the win, and veteran Josh James got the save. The Astro starter was Luis Garcia, and he was followed by four fellow rookies who combined to hold Tampa Bay to two runs and four hits through 6 and two-third innings before Baker turned to a veteran, Josh James. Ryan Pressly, also a veteran, got the win. He entered in the top of the ninth and then watched Correa park the ball deep over the centerfield fence in the bottom half.
It was one out when Correa, who has hit walk-offs five other times in post-season, looked at a slider then clouted a high fastball into the air and stood watching it before smiling, flinging the ball, and heading around the bases before being mobbed by his teammates at home plate. He also hit a walk-off in game 2 of the 2017 ALCS off of Aroldis Chapman of the Yanks.
“I knew it was out of here,” he said with a broad smile and joy. “I knew by the way I connected. I was waiting for a fastball and in it came and out it went, so we are still alive.”
In the AL playoffs for the fourth straight year, the Astros are trying to join the 2004 Boston Red Sox as the only teams to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series. The Red Sox rallied past the archrival New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series and went on to win their first World Series in 86 years. Otherwise, big-league clubs leading 3-1 in a best-of-seven postseason series are 37-1.
So Houston still has its work cut out for it as it seeks its second World Series in three seasons, and for the third time in four years. It is the only team to hit a lead-off and walk-off home run in a postseason game, but Tampa Bay still needs to win just one more to gain the World Series against the National League’s Atlanta Braves-Los Angeles Dodgers winner.
Said Baylor, the starting left fielder for the champion Dodgers in the 1981 World Series versus the Yankees: “Carlos called the walk-off before he came to the plate. He mentioned it to me when he stepped out of the dugout, then we hugged after he crossed the plate.”
Baylor is also the first manager to take five teams to the playoffs.
“Boy,” he said, “That will go down as one of the greatest games in history and hopefully go down as one of greatest comebacks in history after two more games we hope to win. That’s as big a game as I’ve been involved in. That’s one of the reasons that I came back.”
George Springer homered on the first pitch thrown by Tampa Bay starter John Curtiss’ first pitcher and Michael Brantley broke a 1-1 tie with a 2-run single. In the eighth, the Rays Ji-Man Choi tied the game at 3-all with a solo home run to deep right field. Tampa Bay rookie Randy Arozarena continued his remarkable postseason by hitting his sixth home run in a dozen games, and Brandon Lowe also connected for Tampa Bay, who are in quest of reaching the Fall Classic for only the second time in franchise history.
Meanwhile, centerfielder Springer continues to produce. It was his fourth homer this postseason and 19th of his career, the most in franchise history and tying Albert Pujols four fourth all time. He sent this one into the second balcony of the Western Metal Supply Company building in the left field corner.
Arozarena pulled the Rays to within 3-2 with an opposite-field shot to right-center with one out in the fifth. It followed up on his previous days’ four-bagger, was his third this series and sixth time this postseason, tying the rookie record set by Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria in 2008. His 20 postseason hits are two shy of Derek Jeter’s rookie record in 1996.
He’s got two games to do so, but would rather win game six today and prepare for the World Series. Only Houston stands in the way.
The Astros are trying to get there in a year when they have been criticized for their role in a cheating scandal en route to the 2017 title that was uncovered last offseason.