They have pulled off the improbable time and time again this postseason, so why not once more?
Riding a parade of five rookie pitchers to start the game, the Astros again fought tooth and nail with the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park. Houston had two different leads, Tampa Bay muscled their way to a tie game on two occasions, but Carlos Correa had the last laugh.
The shortstop clobbered a one-out solo homer to center field in the bottom of the ninth inning against Nick Anderson, giving Houston a 4-3 win and again staving off elimination. It was Correa’s second walk-off homer in the ALCS in the last two years after he did so in Game 2 in 2019 against the Yankees.
Josh James, who was the first pitcher of the day to work for Houston that was not classified as a rookie, recorded the final out of the seventh inning but things took a turn in the eighth. Ji-Man Choi stepped in and crushed a 97-mile-an-hour fastball from James for a no-doubt, game-tying blast to right field. Manuel Margot followed with a single before James started a nice double play on a sharp comebacker hit to him by Joey Wendle. The twin-killing came with a price, though, as James exited the game with an undisclosed injury right after.
With James out, Ryan Pressly entered and struck out Willy Adames to end the inning, keeping it tied at 3.
The Astros went down quietly against Anderson in the bottom half and Pressly surrendered a leadoff hit to Mike Zunino in the ninth. With the pressure on, Pressly got out of the frame, retiring Randy Arozarena and Austin Meadows on fly balls with pinch-runner Kevin Kiermaier at second base.
Alex Bregman popped out to start the ninth, but Correa sent a 1-1 fastball beyond the reach of Kiermaier, ensuring there will be baseball on Friday afternoon.
Getting the jump has not been an issue for the Astros, as they have shown in four of five games in this set. They took the lead as quickly as a “home” team can do in Game 5 when George Springer ripped John Curtiss’ initial offering down the left-field line and out for a leadoff blast. It was the 19th home run of Springer’s postseason career, moving him into a fourth-place tie with Albert Pujols on the all-time list.
The pitching plan for Dusty Baker came to fruition early on, but not without a tense early moment. Luis Garcia was used as the opener in his first appearance of the playoffs, quite a task for someone who had never pitched above High-A in a game that counts until Sept. 4 of this year. Garcia retired the side in order on 11 pitches in the first, but loaded the bases with two outs on a pair of walks and a hit batsman in the following frame. Mike Zunino then drove a ball to right where Josh Reddick put it away on the warning track, and the 23-year-old ended up with two hitless innings in the most important game of the year. Not bad.
Blake Taylor relieved Garcia to open the third and immediately surrendered a game-tying home run to Brandon Lowe, who was not in the lineup in Game 4 after a 3-for-39 start this postseason. Houston’s offense took no time answering back when Reddick singled and Maldonado laced a ringing double to right-center to begin the bottom half. After an out, Michael Brantley ripped a clean knock to right, plating both runners and giving his team a two-run edge.
Enoli Paredes, the third pitcher of the contest for the Astros at this point, played with fire in the fourth inning as he walked two batters, but also struck out the side to avoid damage. He whipped four-seam fastballs by Adames and Zunino for the final two outs.
However, Paredes became Randy Arozarena’s latest victim in the fifth when he sent a ball over the fence in right-center for a solo blast, his sixth home run of this playoff run. With Andre Scrubb facing a two-on, two-out situation later in the inning, Manuel Margot hit a slow tap down the third base-line. No problem for the wizard Alex Bregman, who made an excellent barehanded grab and a strong throw to first to retire Margot.
Jose Altuve ripped a ball off the third-base bag for a sixth-inning hit, but was thrown out at second on a dart by Arozarena. This was sandwiched around a stellar outing by Brooks Raley, who retired all three hitters he faced, including punchouts of Lowe and Arozarena.
Raley departed with two outs in the seventh in favor of James for a right-on-right matchup against Yandy Diaz. The slugger hit a weak tapper to second and Altuve once again threw low, but Yuli Gurriel was able to pick it out of the dirt this time.
The Astros had a chance for insurance against Aaron Slegers in the seventh after a throwing error by Slegers himself and an intentional walk to Reddick, but Martin Maldonado went down swinging to leave two on the pond. Slegers allowed just one hit in 2.2 scoreless frames while tossing 42 pitches.
Tomorrow’s Game 6 is slated for a 5:07 p.m. CT first pitch. Blake Snell will return to the mound for the Rays after firing five innings of one-run ball in the series opener, while the Astros have not yet named a probable but Framber Valdez would seem to be a logical choice. Valdez is on normal rest and should be ready to go.