After 159 long games, the Astros have finally done it! With a 3-2 win over the Rays on Thursday night, they won the AL West Division for the fourth time in the last five years and advanced to the postseason for the fifth time in a row. Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers Jr. played a huge role in front of their fans at Minute Maid Park to win a heart-beating one in a playoff atmosphere.
Beginning with McCullers Jr., the man was on a clear mission. The Astros needed him to get their postseason ticket on the 159th game of the regular campaign and he delivered. Lance threw his fifth consecutive quality start of September, this time going six strong innings of three hits, two earned runs, one walk, four strikeouts, and a two-run home run by Brandon Lowe in the sixth.
McCullers Jr. was cruising through his first five innings, retiring the first nine hitters he faced on the night and getting to the sixth without allowing a hit.
“It means a lot. Winning the division is not easy,” McCullers Jr. said after the game. “We’ve been very fortunate to have great teams in the last years, we have a great core. It’s nice to get two wins against a team we could expect to face in the playoffs.”
The soon-to-be 28-year-old on October 2 was backed up offensively by Carlos Correa, who sent one over the yard for a massive three-run home run to crack the scoreboard in the bottom fourth off Ryan Yarbrough. It was Correa’s 25th long ball of the campaign, which is now a career-high for him.
With McCullers Jr. out of the game, the final third was just electric. Ryne Stanek allowed a hit but retired the seventh for his 20th hold of the year. Next, in the eighth, Kendall Graveman began the frame hitting Mike Zunino with his first pitch of the game. But then, with one out on the board and Kevin Kiermaier running on first, Graveman struck out Lowe and Kiermaier was caught stealing by Martín Maldonado to end the inning with a beautiful double play.
The ninth inning came and it wasn’t easy at all. But Ryan Pressly and Yuli Gurriel were lights out to seal the win. Pressly walked Randy Arozarena to begin the ninth and José Altuve committed an error on a Wander Franco grounder, which left two men on base and no outs.
With dangerous, powerful Nelson Cruz at the plate, Gurriel fielded cleanly a hard-hit grounder to make a quick double play. The final scene of the movie was with Arozarena standing on third base and Yandy Díaz pinch-hitting for Brett Phillips. Seven pitches later, Alex Bregman grabbed a ground ball and shoot to first base, with Gurriel scooping the throw to complete the out and make everyone jump at Minute Maid Park.
With the Astros having a postseason berth in their hands, they will have to wait and see who they’re gonna face in the first playoff series. For now, the ‘Stros need to concentrate on their final regular-season series, a three-game showing against the Oakland A’s from Friday to Sunday. According to MLB.com, Houston has not decided their pitcher for Friday’s game (7:10 pm CT).