Hous­ton nears epic come­back

Wins third straight to even series 3- 3

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - High School Football -

SAN DIEGO — Ge­orge Springer and José Al­tuve keyed a four- run rally in the fifth in­ning, Fram­ber Valdéz pitched six bril­liant in­nings and the Hous­ton Astros beat the Tampa Bay Rays for the third con­sec­u­tive game, 7- 4, Fri­day night at Petco Park to force a de­cid­ing Game 7 of the Amer­i­can League Cham­pi­onship Series.

Hous­ton chased starter Blake Snell in the fifth be­fore Springer hit a go- ahead, two- run sin­gle and scored on Al­tuve’s dou­ble. Car­los Cor­rea, who hit a walk- off home run in Thurs­day night’s 4- 3 win, added an RBI sin­gle.

The Astros are one win away from their third World Series in four sea­sons and join­ing the 2004 Bos­ton Red Sox as the only teams to rally from a 3- 0 deficit to win a seven- game series. The Red Sox stunned the New York Yan­kees to win the ALCS be­fore win­ning their first World Series in 86 sea­sons. Other­wise, big- league clubs lead­ing 3- 0 in a best- of- seven post­sea­son series are 37- 1.

Hous­ton also is try­ing to be­come the first team to win a pen­nant with a los­ing reg­u­larsea­son record ( 29- 31). The Astros have been crit­i­cized for their role in a cheat­ing scan­dal en route to the 2017 ti­tle that was un­cov­ered last off­sea­son.

Manuel Mar­got home­red twice and drove in three runs for the Rays, who af­ter blowing the 3- 0 series lead re­main one win away from the sec­ond World Series in fran­chise his­tory and moved within one loss from join­ing the 2004 Yan­kees in ig­nominy.

Game 7 Satur­day night will fea­ture the pitch­ers who started and fin­ished Hous­ton’s Game 7 win against the Los An­ge­les Dodgers in the 2017 World Series. Righthande­r Lance McCullers Jr. will go for the Astros while 36- year- old Char­lie Mor­ton is ex­pected to start for the Rays. In the de­ci­sive Game 7 in 2017, McCullers started and went 2⅓ score­less in­nings while Mor­ton pitched the fi­nal four in­nings for the vic­tory. Mor­ton signed with Tampa Bay prior to the 2019 sea­son.

It’s also a re­match of Game 2 of this series, won, 4- 2, by Mor­ton and the Rays.

Valdéz ( 3- 1), who lost the opener of this series, 2- 1, to Snell ( 2- 2), held the Astros to one run and three hits while strik­ing out nine and walk­ing three in his third ca­reer post­sea­son start. He al­lowed Willy Adames’ RBI dou­ble to left in the sec­ond.

Astros closer Ryan Pressly pitched for

the third con­sec­u­tive day and got three outs for his sec­ond save to go with a win in Game 5. He al­lowed Yoshit­omo Tsut­sugo’s one- out sin­gle, then in­duced Mike Brosseau’s gameend­ing dou­ble- play grounder, a call up­held in a video re­view. Pressly threw nine pitches, all for strikes, rais­ing his three- day to­tal to 39.

The Astros’ 71- year- old skip­per, Dusty Baker, who led Na­tional League teams for

the first 22 sea­sons of his 23- year man­age­rial ca­reer, used some old- school base­ball to out­fox his younger coun­ter­part, 42- year- old Kevin Cash, to over­turn a 1- 0 deficit in the fifth. The rally had only one hard- hit ball. The Astros had been frus­trated in the first three games when they scalded balls right to field­ers.

Snell walked Yuli Gur­riel open­ing the fifth and al­lowed a sin­gle to Aled­mys Díaz on his 82nd pitch. Cash, whose team was built around an­a­lyt­ics, pulled Snell be­fore he could face the No. 9 bat­ter, catcher Martín Mal­don­ado, and lead­off hit­ter Springer, who had struck out twice.

Mal­don­ado laid down a sac­ri­fice bunt against Diego Castillo and Springer punched a two- run sin­gle to cen­ter through a hole in Tampa Bay’s drawn- in in­field that was also in a shift. Al­tuve fol­lowed with a dou­ble into the left- field cor­ner that brought in Springer, who might have been out if Bran­don Lowe had hit the cut­off man. Af­ter

Michael Brant­ley walked, Cor­rea sin­gled to left to bring in Al­tuve.

Snell al­lowed two runs and three hits in four- plus in­nings, struck out four and walked four.

Baker, hired af­ter AJ Hinch was fired af­ter the reve­la­tion of the sign- steal­ing scan­dal, is the first man­ager to take five teams to the play­offs. He has yet to win a World Series as a man­ager. His San Francisco Giants reached the 2002 Fall Clas­sic be­fore los­ing in seven games to the An­gels. As a player, he helped the Los An­ge­les Dodgers win the World Series in 1981 against the New York Yan­kees.

Hous­ton’s Kyle Tucker home­red off rookie Shane McClana­han lead­ing off the sixth. In the sev­enth, Michael Brant­ley hit an RBI sin­gle and Tucker a sac­ri­fice fly. Mar­got home­red off An­dre Scrubb lead­ing off the Rays’ sev­enth and hit a two- run shot off Cris­tian Javier with two outs in the eighth.

Ezra Shaw/ Getty Im­ages

Ge­orge Springer of the Astros sin­gles in two runs against the Tampa Bay Rays in the fifth in­ning of Game 6 of the Amer­i­can League Cham­pi­onship Series at Petco Park in San Diego.

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