After playing for two weeks longer than most of the sporting world expected, the Houston Astros decided they wanted to remain in the San Diego bubble for at least one more day. Zack Greinke took the mound and was all business, Jose Altuve and George Springer provided some big swings, Cristian Javier continued his remarkable postseason with a stellar relief outing, and Ryan Pressly made things exciting before scraping by and picking up his team’s 27th out.
Add it all up, and the Astros defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday night at Petco Park to keep their campaign alive. Houston now trails the best-of-seven set 3-1 with Game 5 slated for Thursday at 4:07 p.m. CT.
Leading 4-2, the right-hander Javier took the mound in the seventh for the first time in the ALCS and permitted just a two-out single to Yoshi Tsutsugo that glanced off his back. Javier was just fine, finishing off that inning and then setting the Rays down in order in the eighth with a pair of strikeouts.
Ryan Pressly was getting loose in the bullpen as the game headed to the ninth inning, but Baker and pitching coach Brent Strom opted to send Javier back to the hill to close it out. However, Javier’s only blemish of the evening came when he walked leadoff hitter Ji-Man Choi, and then it was Pressly time.
Brandon Lowe was not in the starting lineup, as Rays skipper Kevin Cash gave him a breather after the talented hitter slumped to a 3-for-39 skid in his first 10 playoff games. He pinch-hit for Mike Brosseau and Pressly fanned him with a slider. Joey Wendle followed by grounding into a force out on a play where Altuve’s throw to get the lead runner was flawless, a sigh of relief for Astros fans.
However, the game wasn’t over. Willy Adames crushed a ball to deep left-center field that just missed tying it up, instead hitting off the wall for an RBI double. The first pitch to Yoshi Tsutsugo was in the dirt and the normally automatic Martin Maldonado was unable to block it, sending Adames to third. Tsutsugo ripped a 1-2 pitch to right, but it was directly at Springer, who hauled it in to snap his club’s three-game slide.
A staple in this series has been an early, electric swing of the bat from Jose Altuve, and he did it again Wednesday. Dusty Baker flip-flopped Altuve and Michael Brantley in the order, putting Altuve in the three hole, the first time since Aug. 18 he was slotted in anywhere besides the number two spot.
Altuve showed the lineup change didn’t bother him one bit, as he drove a 1-0 fastball from Tyler Glasnow into the left-center field seats, giving the Astros an advantage with a long ball for the third time in four games. He was able to come through again in the third, slicing a two-out opposite-field RBI double to pad the lead to 2-0.
Greinke faced the minimum through his first 10 batters, including four punchouts. But Tampa Bay struck in the fourth when Austin Meadows singled and Randy Arozarena ripped a line shot over the left-field fence for a game-tying, two-run homer. It was Arozarena’s fifth long ball of the playoffs, tying Kyle Schwarber for second all-time for a rookie in the postseason.
After Martin Maldonado picked up a base hit with one out in the fifth, George Springer left no doubt. He took a high fastball way out to left field, some 405 feet to put Houston back in front 4-2.
A perilous situation arose for Greinke in the very next half-inning. After giving up a pair of one-out hits, Greinke was tasked with facing the dangerous Arozarena, but struck him out on a check swing. Ji-Man Choi then reached on an infield knock to load the bases for Brosseau, the man who hit a dramatic eighth-inning home run in Game 5 of the division to help upend the Yankees. Brosseau worked the count full before Greinke went to his vintage changeup and got him swinging to escape the jam, recording a quality start in the process.
With neither team sure if there was going to be a game tomorrow, the pitching matchup will likely take shape either tonight or early in the morning. One thing is for certain though, the Astros will take the field at least one more time before winter arrives.