And then there were fewer.
After losing 5-1 to the Kansas City Royals, who appear determined to retain their status as the team in the American League with the best record, the Minnesota Twins have been officially eliminated from postseason play.
That leaves just the Rangers, the Astros...and the Angels, who completed a karmic revenge bid in the ninth inning against the Rangers, scoring five runs in the top of the ninth innings against Rangers closer Shawn Tolleson and reliever Ross Ohlendorf to stun the Rangers 11-10 and ensure that the AL West and second Wild Card positions will not be decide definitively until the last game of the season..tomorrow.
The Astros players watched the events unfold in the ninth in Arlington, and everyone was silent. Undoubtedly, many nails were chewed. Seeds spat into cups provided the backdrop, until Elvis Andrus slid past second base in an inexplicable attempt to steal that was also poorly executed and was tagged out to end the game. Then the TV in the Astros clubhouse was changed to football.
Everyone knew what they had to do tonight.
Just win, baby.
Right off the bat, Jose Altuve, seeking five hits to bring his season total to 200 for the second straight season (and only the third time an individual Astros player has amassed such a total of hits in a season), ripped the second pitch of the baseball game down the left field line for his 40th double of the season. George Springer then followed with a scalded single to left field. Jose Altuve had to make sure the ball got through to the outfield and so only was able to advance to third on the play. However, Carlos Correa was able to drive Altuve home from third with a sacrifice fly to right field.
Collin McHugh allowed the Diambondbacks their own lead off double to Socrates Brito in the bottom of the first inning, but then fired off two straight strikeouts of Aaron Hill and A.J. Pollock before wisely walking Paul Goldschmidt and inducing a fly out to right field off the bat of Welington Castillo to end the threat and strand both base runners.
A night after the Astros banged out 21 runs on 19 hits, the Astros resumed the barrage in the second game of this series. Chris Carter, whose explosive September has earned his resumed presence in the starting lineup, laced his own lead off double to left field. Preston Tucker then pounded a medium length fly ball to right field for an out that turned into a double play at third base when Trogdor was unable to burninate his way to the bag on a tag up before the ball could beat him there for the second out. Jason Castro then lined out to right field to end the inning.
In the bottom of the third inning, Jeremy Hellickson showed McHugh how National League pitchers do it by laying off several curve balls before driving a solid single to center field. He was stranded, however, after George Springer made this fantastic catch for the second out:
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And A.J. Pollock then lined out to center field to end the inning.
To lead off the fourth inning, Colby Rasmus launched his 24th home run of the year - a laser beam on the sixth pitch of the at bat, a curveball, that didn't look like it ever got more than twenty five feet off the ground and ultimately actually left a visible crater in the top part of the bullpen wall where it hit.
Chris Carter then followed with his second double of the evening, precluding his second base running mistake of the game after he attempted to advance to third on a ground ball right in front of him, hit to short stop by Preston Tucker.
In the top of the fifth inning, Jose Altuve fouled a pitch off his angle before driving a pitch up into the left field bleachers for his fifteenth home run of the season - and his 197th hit.
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However, Jose Altuve was clearly in pain after fouling the ball off his ankle. It was exacerbated later after he fouled another pitch off his foot in the next at bat - and he'd ultimately ground into a double play while limping down to first. He'd stay in the game, but it wasn't clear to this Astros fan why - he was clearly in pain. Then, in the top of the eighth inning, he was hit right in the left hand by Arizona reliever David Hernandez. Altuve was, once again, clearly in some pain.
More on Altuve's status as it develops.
After Welington Castillo drove in the Diamondback's first run of the night in the bottom of the sixth, the Astros came right back with a lead off double from Jake Marisnick, who'd then score the fourth run for the Astros on an RBI single by Jason Castro. Collin McHugh then reached on an error by catcher Welington Castillo after fielding a bunt from McHugh and an errant throw into center field attempting to force Jason Castro at second. Jose Altuve would then follow with the aforementioned double play, moving Castro to third. George Springer walked and stole second base, but Carlos Correa struck out to end the inning and strand Springer and Castro at second and third base.
Collin McHugh wasn't necessarily overpowering tonight, but he did have an impressively efficient night, logging seven innings pitched and only allowing six hits, one earned run, and one walk with six strikeouts - and he needed just 91 pitches to accomplish it. He became the second nineteen game winner in the American League, joining teammate Dallas "Keuchelangelo" Keuchel - who won his league-leading twentieth game last night.
Colby Rasmus added some insurance in the eighth inning with his second home run of the night, another solo shot to right field. Colby was merciful this time, however, and put no more holes in the bullpen wall in right field.
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Also worth noting: the Astros, with Rasmus' second home run of the game and 25th on the season, the Astros have now re-tied the Toronto Blue Jays for the Major League lead in team home runs.
Then the Astros would load the bases on an Evan Gattis pinch hit by pitch - as an aside, it's very hard to hit triples when one is hit by the pitch - and the Astros would then push across their sixth run when Jose Altuve was hit by the pitch on his hand.
Paul Goldschmidt would come right back with his 32nd home run of the season off Astros reliever Will Harris, but Harris retired the only other three hitters he faced in the inning.
Colby Rasmus would add a third hit on the night in the top of the ninth - a bloop single to left field - and Jed Lowrie would add his second walk of the night, his first two plate appearances since sustaining an injury on September 29th in Seattle. After Matt Duffy struck out, Jake Marisnick flew out to Socrates Brito in right field to end the inning.
In the bottom of the ninth, Luke Gregerson entered the game in a non-save situation and shut the door to clinch the win for the Astros.
A tweet examining the playoff scenarios as they stand after the Astros victory tonight:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The final AL West/Wild Card playoff scenario chart, following today's <a href="https://twitter.com/Twins">@Twins</a> L, <a href="https://twitter.com/astros">@Astros</a> W, and <a href="https://twitter.com/Angels">@Angels</a> W/<a href="https://twitter.com/Rangers">@Rangers</a> L. <a href="http://t.co/SNj5iSUxiW">pic.twitter.com/SNj5iSUxiW</a></p>— CrainsBrane (@DraytonsBrain) <a href="https://twitter.com/DraytonsBrain/status/650515403412606976">October 4, 2015</a></blockquote>
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As an aside, Will Harris and his wife just welcomed their second child (first son) this past Wednesday. Congratulations from us at TCB to their family!