Baseball’s nightmare is almost a reality.
The Astros, who fired their manager and general manager in January after an MLB investigation found they had cheated their way to a World Series title three years ago, are now one win away from getting back to the Fall Classic.
Houston avoided elimination again on Friday night, winning a third straight over the reeling Rays, 7-4, in Game 6 of the ALCS at Petco Park in San Diego. The Astros will look to complete the unlikely comeback Saturday night.
On Friday, the Astros used a four-run fifth inning to spark another win, taking advantage of some poor work out of the bullpen by the Rays.
Tampa Bay left-hander Blake Snell battled his command early on, walking three batters and going to three balls on two others in the first two innings.
The Rays took the lead in the bottom of the second, when Brandon Lowe singled to center with one out before Houston starter Framber Valdez got Manuel Margot looking for the second out. Willy Adames followed with a double to the gap in left-center to score Lowe from first to score the first run of the game.
With Adames on second, Valdez whiffed Joey Wendle to end the inning.
Snell was effective, but he was yanked after a leadoff walk of Yuli Gurriel in the fifth was followed by a single through the left side of the infield by Aledmys Diaz.
Diego Castillo entered with no outs in the fifth. Martin Maldonado bunted the runners over. Then, with the infield in, George Springer knocked one through the right side, which was left mostly vacant by the shift, to drive in Gurriel and Diaz and give Houston a 2-1 lead.
Jose Altuve then ripped a double to left and Springer scored easily when Lowe, usually an infielder, but playing left field, inexplicably threw the ball in to second base.
Castillo, so effective out of the pen through most of the playoffs — especially against the Yankees in the ALDS — then walked Michael Brantley on four pitches. Carlos Correa delivered an RBI single to left to complete the rally, as Houston went up, 4-1.
Kyle Tucker extended the lead to four runs by starting the top of the sixth with a homer off Shane McClanahan.
Tampa Bay threatened in the bottom of the sixth.
It started with Hunter Renfroe’s one-out single off Valdez. Yandy Diaz walked on a 3-2 pitch and started yelling at Valdez as he walked to first. Valdez and Diaz jawed at each other before the umpires — and Correa — helped calm down the situation.
But just when it seemed like the Rays had Valdez on the ropes, the young lefty responded by getting the struggling Lowe to ground into an inning-ending double play.
The Astros padded their lead in the seventh, with a Brantley single driving in Altuve from second and Correa’s double scoring Brantley to make it 7-1.
A homer by Margot to start the bottom of the seventh made it 7-2. An inning later, Margot hit a two-out, two-run shot to get the Rays to within 7-4, which forced Houston manager Dusty Baker to turn to his closer, Ryan Pressly, for a third straight night — meaning he’d likely be unavailable for Game 7.
Pressly did the job — barely — allowing a one-out hit to pinch-hitter Yoshi Tsutsugo before ALDS hero Mike Brosseau grounded into a double play to end it, with Randy Arozarena on deck.