Houston Forces Game 7
SAN DIEGO (AP) — The blowback from a sign-stealing scandal three years ago and a losing record during the pandemic-shortened regular season don’t mean a thing to Dusty Baker and the Houston Astros.
Like them or loathe them, the Astros are on the cusp of a 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.
George Springer and Jose Altuve delivered big hits, Framber Valdez pitched six brilliant innings and the Astros beat the Tampa Bay Rays for the third straight time, 7-4 Friday to force a deciding Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.
It’s been a stunning turnaround in a series that had been going the Rays’ way as they opened a 3-0 lead.
“We’re not through writing history,” Baker said. “We’re hoping we can have a happy ending to this historic season and historic year.
“This team’s battled back big time,” added Baker, hired to bring some stability to a team rocked by a sign-stealing scandal it used en route to the 2017 title that was uncovered last offseason. “You’ve got to love this team, or some people hate this team, but I mean you’ve at least got to respect this team, the way that they’ve worked.”
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 walkoff home run in Thursday night’s 4-3 win, added an RBI single.
“We’re relentless and when we said we didn’t want to go home, we really meant that,” Correa said. “We want to keep playing baseball and we don’t want this to be the end of our season. We took care of these three games and now we’ve got to take one more. If we don’t win that game, then it’s all meant nothing. We’ve got to go out there tomorrow and get that win. It’ll be great.”
Earlier this week, some of the Astros watched a documentary on the 2004 Red Sox, who after falling behind 3-0 won four straight games to stun the New York Yankees for the AL pennant 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 regular season 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.
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Dodgers catcher Will Smith hit a go-ahead, three-run homer off the Atlanta reliever with the same name, Corey Seager homered twice and Los Angeles avoided elimination with a win over the Braves in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series.
Smith connected in the sixth against — of all people — Will Smith, the fourth of six Braves pitchers in their bullpen night that started with a couple of postseason firsts by A.J. Minter.
“For him to come through for us in that spot. I’m happy to see him expressing himself,” Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts said of LA’s Will Smith.
Betts got that decisive sixth started with an infield single, and the first-year Dodger and former AL MVP had a running, shoestring catch in right field that turned into an inning-ending double play. His snag took an Atlanta run off the board after a replay challenge right before Seager’s first homer.
Game 6 is Saturday afternoon, with a pitching rematch from the series opener: lefty Max Fried for the Braves and right-hander Walker Buehler for the Dodgers. Both gave up one run in Game 1, which Atlanta won 5-1 after a four-run ninth. Atlanta is looking to get into the World Series for the first time since 1999.
Blake Treinen, the third of seven Dodgers pitchers and the Game 1 loser in relief, pitched two perfect innings for the win. Inconsistent closer Kenley Jansen struck out the side in a non-save situation to end it.
Betts had a stolen base after his sixth-starting single before Justin Turner’s one-out hard grounder that got Betts caught in a rundown. The Braves then brought in their lefty named Will Smith to face left-handed batter Max Muncy, who drew a walk before the Dodgers’ catcher named Will Smith hit a full-count pitch 404 feet to left-center for a 4-2 lead.
It was the first time since at least 1961 that a batter homered off a pitcher with the same name in the regular season or postseason, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Dodgers extended their lead in the seventh when Chris Taylor hit a two-out double, and scored on a single by Betts before Seager hit a ball into LA’s bullpen in right-center.
Seager’s four homers and 10 RBIs have already tied NLCS records, with at least one more game for the Dodgers to play — two if they want a chance to get to the World Series for the third time in four years. The four homers are already a record for a shortstop in any postseason series.
“Just kind of putting good swings on pitches and everything is kind of clicking,” Seager said.
Taylor turned an ankle in left field during the eighth inning but remained in the game. Manager Dave Roberts said Taylor would get treatment and testing prior to Game 6.
Minter struck out seven of the 10 batters he faced as the first pitcher in MLB history whose first start came in a postseason game. The fourth-year big leaguer became the first pitcher — starter or reliever — with seven strikeouts in three innings or fewer in a postseason game. He had already matched his career high before striking out the side — all on called third strikes — in the third before leaving with a 2-0 lead.
After Marcell Ozuna and Travis d’Arnaud had consecutive singles to start the third for Atlanta, there was one out when Dansby Swanson hit a sinking liner to right. Betts made a running catch, with his glove skimming the ground before his throw home was late. But the Dodgers challenged that Ozuna that left third base early — and it became the Braves third out instead of their third run.
“We were able to get a stop,” Betts said. “Yesterday we couldn’t stop the bleeding. Today, we were able to get a stop right there and put some pressure on them.”
Umpires and the off-site replay crew needed nearly two minutes to make their ruling, but Dodgers fielders — and even Braves runners — had already left the field after watching the play on the big video board.
“It’s not always on the offensive side that you get the spark,” Seager said. “A big play in a big moment you get some energy.”
But right after that, Seager’s leadoff homer to straightaway center in the fourth cut the Dodgers deficit to 2-1.
Rookie center fielder Cristian Pache made a leaping try at the wall, but the ball went just behind his extended glove. But Pache did time things up in the eighth, robbing Muncy of a homer with a nearly identical play.
The Braves scored in both innings off LA starter Dustin May. Freddie Freeman doubled, went to third and scored on d’Arnaud’s sacrifice fly in the first, and Pache had an RBI single in the second. D’Arnaud added an RBI groundout in the eighth.
Smith became only the third catcher in Dodgers franchise history to hit a go-ahead home run in the postseason. The last was Steve Yeager in Game 5 of the 1981 World Series of Ron Guidry of the New York Yankees. The other was Roy Campanella, who did it twice: in Game 3 of the 1953 World Series and Game 3 of the 1955 World Series.
The 21-year-old Pache, who has played in only two regular season games in the big leagues, has an RBI in each of his four NLCS starts. He became a starter after outfielder Adam Duvall’s left oblique injury in the series opener.
LOT OF RELIEF
Minter hadn’t started a game since his junior season at Texas A&M in 2015, the same year Atlanta drafted him in the second round. He had made 144 relief appearances (139 regular season, five playoff games) the past four seasons for the Braves, along with 77 minor league games, before his first professional start.