The Houston Astros were six outs away from their first playoff series win in 10 years on Monday afternoon, but fell short in the most gut-wrenching fashion as they squandered a four-run lead in the eighth inning.
The team brought Minute Maid Park and every other fan of the team around the city, state and country to a resounding roar with a huge seventh after a hard fought six innings. The Royals reminded every Astros player and fan, though, that it takes 27 outs to win a game – not 21.
There are several story lines from Monday’s Game 4, but it would be a disservice to overlook the monster performances from two young men that are younger than many college students – Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers.
Stage not too big for the rookies
McCullers took the mound in a crucial Game 4 for the Astros. The young righty drilled the first batter of the game Alcides Escobar on a full count but settled in after and dominated the Royals line-up for most of seven innings.
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The only other costly mistake McCullers made was missing up to Salvador Perez in the second inning. Perez drove the pitch into the right field stands – a two-run shot – and the Royals took an early 2-0 lead.
McCullers put together a gritty performance, wearing his emotion on his sleeve and using his mid-90s fastball only to set up his devastating breaking ball. McCullers came out of the game in the seventh inning with one out after drilling Perez with a fastball.
Lance McCullers final line: 6.1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 SO on 110 pitches
Carlos Correa stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the first inning and was drilled in the elbow by a Yordano Ventura fastball. Despite a protective elbow pad, Correa was clearly in pain, but stayed in and made Ventura pay in his second at-bat.
In the third inning, an inning after Carlos Gomez hit a home run to bring the club within one run, Correa stepped up to the plate and drilled a fastball off the inside of the plate to left-center field to tie the game at 2-2.
The young phenom’s power is duly noted at this point, but his most impressive at-bat may have come in the fifth inning. After a George Springer walk, Correa showed maturity in his approach and took what Ventura gave him by drilling an outside fastball into right field for a double and RBI.
Correa seemed to have all of the big hits in this game. To cap it off, he stepped up to the plate in the seventh with Jose Altuve on base and demolished a breaking ball that got away from the normally untouchable Ryan Madson to give Houston a 5-2 lead.
Of course, Correa may end up kicking himself for misplaying a ball – despite it’s nasty hop – that he would turn a double play on 95% of the time, but he shouldn’t.
Carlos Correa’s final line: 4-4, 1BB, 2 R, 4 RBIs
The two young guys proved today that the stage is certainly not too big for them – what a nice first round for Jeff Luhnow and Co. in 2012.
In an ideal world for Astros fans, the next part of this article would note the team was closing out the Royals and waiting to face their next opponent, but we know how this goes. In the big seventh inning, after Correa and Colby Rasmus went back-to-back, Carlos Gomez and Jake Marisnick reached second and third game with one out. Luis Valbuena and Marwin Gonzalez followed with a fly out and strikeout to end the inning to limit the damage for the Royals and leave the door open.
Most Astros fans may not immediately realize it, but we all went through the five stages of grief today during and after the eight innings. Some may have lingered on one of the stages longer than the others, but here’s how it goes:
- Will Harris comes back out after the seventh inning with a 6-2 lead and surrenders consecutive hits, but that’s okay because there is no way, no way that we can come down from the seventh inning high, right?
- Harris surrenders his third and fourth consecutive hits, and the lead is cut to three, the bases are loaded and nobody is out. This is not fun anymore, doubts begin to creep into the back of every fan’s mind, but there is still a shot at escaping the inning with a lead. Pitching change: Tony Sipp replaces Harris.
- Eric Hosmer singles over Jose Altuve to right field – the merry-go-round will not stop – and the lead is cut to two. There are still no outs, and we’re all asking the same thing, “Why did we let ourselves be this happy? How could we let our guard down with this bullpen right now?”
- And then the wheels fall off. A costly two-run error, another pitching change followed by an RBI fielder’s choice allow the Royals to take the lead. Disbelief and flashbacks to Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS set in – furniture is thrown.
- Hosmer blasts a two-run home run in the ninth, and the figurative jugular is slashed. It’s time to find a scapegoat. A.J. Hinch? Will Harris? Evan Gattis?
- Okay, maybe there shouldn’t be a scapegoat. Maybe things like this just happen in baseball – it’s the beauty of the sport. It’s only Game 4 anyways. If you asked me at the beginning of the series if I would take a 2-2 series with the Royals and a shot to advance to the ALDS, I would take it.
- Collin McHugh is capable of doing incredible things, and Dallas Keuchel may be available for Game 5. The offense is doing big things and have a chance to jump on Johnny Cueto early in the game again.
- There’s a chance that the season could end on Wednesday. Nobody is ready for their team’s last game of the season, especially when the Astros were six outs away from four more guaranteed games.
- Remembering all of the times that the Astros and other Houston teams have done this to their fans – this can’t end well.
- It is what it is. There is no time machine; nothing will change what happened today.
- Game 5 is going to be great, and the Astros have a chance to show the rest of the MLB the resilience of this team.
Game 5 prediction
A firm prediction here would be asinine. We have no idea what’s going to happen at this point. Both teams have seen the opposing pitcher within the past week, so there are no secrets. The only certainty in this game is uncertainty – isn’t playoff baseball wonderful?