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Relentless Astros crush A’s 11-6, advancing to fourth consecutive ALCS

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What are they going to say now?

MLB: ALDS-Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Talk about a perfect storm. Zack Greinke back on the mound, the Astros in the home whites and a fourth consecutive day of the ball flying out of Chavez Ravine to the point that Orbit could have likely hit a home run.

Thursday’s Game 4 of the American League Division Series played out in a way much of the series had to this point, with a barrage of early offense and multiple lead changes. After a tough afternoon yesterday, Houston’s suddenly vicious bullpen returned to their prior playoff form, shutting down Oakland over the final four innings while the offense continued to tack on insurance runs.

In a year where so much has gone awry all across the globe, the Astros have seemingly been able to put the 2020 script behind them while much of the world remains stuck in place. A relentless offensive attack and dominant relief pitching throughout late September and early October means one thing: Houston, your team is back in the American League Championship Series for the fourth consecutive season.

The Astros knocked off the A’s 11-6 on Thursday afternoon to win the best-of-five series 3-1 and will now meet the winner of the Yankees/Rays series. Tampa Bay led the set 2-1 at publication time with a chance to clinch with a Game 4 victory later in the evening.

The production of the “core four” of George Springer, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa this week simply can’t be stated enough. They combined for 26 hits, eight home runs and 22 of the 33 Houston RBI in the series.

And the bullpen? Dating back to last week’s two-game sweep of the Twins, they have allowed just 16 hits and seven runs in 25.2 innings across six postseason games. The blunt of the damage came late yesterday, when Oakland rallied late to keep their campaign afoot.

Greinke was making his first postseason start at Dodger Stadium since Game 5 of the 2015 NLDS as a member of the Dodgers, when he inexplicably forgot to cover third base on a key play which allowed Daniel Murphy to take an extra 90 feet, a huge mental lapse in a 3-2 win for the Mets.

Matt Olson and Mark Canha reached on consecutive one-out singles in the second, then Greinke made a costly mistake. On a full count to Ramon Laureano, he hung a slider that was demolished into the left-center field bleachers, giving Oakland a 3-0 lead.

Josh Reddick has experienced another tough postseason with the bat, but came up with an outstanding defensive play early in Thursday’s game. Matt Olson crushed a fly ball to deep right in the fourth, and Reddick leapt at the short porch to make the grab, stealing a would-be solo homer.

After Jose Altuve took a close pitch for ball four to open the bottom of the fourth, Brantley changed the complexion of the game with a line-drive shot that cleared the right-field fence, cutting the deficit to one run. Bregman and Tucker followed with base hits, then Correa clobbered a three-run blast to left field, a ball that had no question about the outcome from the second it left his bat. Correa’s homer was the 15th of his postseason career, trailing only Derek Jeter (20) for most long balls in the playoffs by a shortstop. Jeter has 102 more games played in that category, so it’s safe to say Correa could soon sit atop that list for a long time.

When all was said and done in the fourth inning, the Astros had surged in front 5-3 and chased A’s starter Frankie Montas from the contest. Montas cruised through the first three frames, facing just one batter over the minimum, but the second time through the order produced much different results.

Laureano got Greinke a second time to begin the fifth, taking another slider out to the nearly identical part of the ballpark in left-center, immediately pulling the A’s within 5-4. Greinke was pulled after a two-out walk in the fifth, finishing his outing with five hits and four runs allowed in 4.2 frames.

Much like the entire series, the Astros immediately had an answer as Brantley led off the home fifth with his second home run in as many plate appearances. After J.B. Wendelken walked Bregman, Mike Minor entered and Houston continued to square up balls. Tucker singled sharply to right, then Correa pulled a ground ball into left field for a base hit, plating Bregman for a 7-4 Astros advantage.

Tucker and Correa continued to come up huge in the sixth inning, each delivering a two-out RBI single to make it a five-run lead. Correa finished with five runs batted in, tying his career high after having previously reached the mark twice in a regular-season game - in 2017 and 2019.

Oakland’s last gasp to get back in it was in the top of the seventh. After Robbie Grossman and Sean Murphy reached safely via hit with two outs, Marcus Semien hit a towering fly ball to left field, but Dodger Stadium held a baseball for once. Tucker squeezed it on the warning track, and the series was over for all intents and purposes.

The Astros delivered the final dagger after the stretch when Altuve smoked a two-run homer to center, his second straight day with a long ball. The seven-run lead was the largest for either team at any point in the series.

Cristian Javier was his usual solid self in 2.1 scoreless frames of relief. He did exit with two runners on base in the eighth, but Enoli Paredes had his back, retiring Matt Olson and Mark Canha with both ducks in scoring position.

Oakland did prolong matters a bit in the ninth when Semien and Tommy La Stella connected on two-out, run-scoring hits against Ryan Pressly. The Astros closer then walked Chad Pinder but froze Khris Davis on a full-count fastball to end the game.

The next game for Houston will be Sunday at Petco Park against a team to be determined, possibly in the next few hours or maybe not until tomorrow. Regardless, the Astros will have two days off in order to set their pitching rotation and bullpen. Based on what we have seen in this postseason, this rejuvenated team will be fired up and raring to go.