LOS ANGELES (AFP) — The Houston Astros refused to go quietly, downing the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-4, to force a decisive Game 7 in Major League Baseball’s American League Championship Series (ALCS).
After dropping the first three games of the series in San Diego, California, the Astros have won three straight to keep their bid for a World Series berth alive.
“We’re relentless,” Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said.
“We said we didn’t want to go home and we meant it.”
Houston — which had played the villain this pandemic-disrupted season after revelations of a sign-stealing scandal tainted their 2017 World Series victory — is just the second team to advance to a Game 7 after trailing 3-0 in a series.
The Boston Red Sox did it in the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees — and won game seven on the way to the Major League Baseball crown.
Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez gave up one run on three hits with nine strikeouts over six impressive innings.
George Springer sparked a four-run fifth inning that put the Astros in control, his sharp single off Rays relief pitcher Diego Castillo scoring two.
Yuli Gurriel had walked to open the inning and Adelmys Diaz singled to left field off Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell — spelling the end of Snell’s day.
Martin Maldonado’s sacrifice bunt advanced the runners, and Springer’s ground ball to centerfield drove in two runs.
Jose Altuve followed with a crisp line drive to left field and Springer raced around from first to score.
Correa — the walk off homer hero of their Game 5 victory — added another run-scoring single before Alex Bregman hit into a double play to end the inning.
Shane McClanahan took over on the mound for Tampa Bay in the sixth and gave up a home run to Tucker that made it 5-1 and the Astros added two more in the seventh.
Tampa Bay’s frustration was evident in the bottom of the sixth when Rays first baseman Yandi Diaz had strong words for Valdez after taking ball four from the pitcher.
Astros catcher Martin Maldonado tried to soothe Diaz and Correa went to the mound to encourage Valdez, who induced Brandon Lowe to hit into an inning-ending double play.
“I don’t know what exactly happened,” said Correa, adding his advice to Valdez was “focus; let’s go win this ball game.”
Willy Adames had given Tampa Bay the lead in the bottom of the second, breaking out of his hitting slump with a two-out run-scoring double.
Manuel Margot hit two home runs off two different Astros relief pitchers — a solo shot off Andre Scrubb in the seventh and a two-run blast off Cristian Javier in the eighth that cut the deficit to 7-4.
But Astros closer Ryan Pressly pitched a scoreless ninth to seal the win.
The winner of the series will play either the Atlanta Braves or Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.
The Braves took a 3-1 lead into game five of the National League Championship Series and had a chance to close it out against the Dodgers in Arlington, Texas, later Friday.