Astros survive ALCS Game Four, still face uphill battle

The Houston Astros hung on to win ALCS Game Four but still have a long road to the World Series.

It almost came crashing down at the end, as so many Houston sports disappointments have in the past, but the Astros hung on to win ALCS Game Four by a 4-3 margin over the Rays. It means they live to play another day, but they’ve still got an insanely difficult battle to get to the World Series.

After making crucial defensive miscues in each of the previous two games, Jose Altuve played error-free ball and kicked things off with his bat. He hit a solo homer in the first inning on a 100-mph pitch from Tyler Glasnow and added an RBI double in the third inning. George Springer hit a go-ahead two-run blast in the fifth that provided the team with all the runs it needed. Altuve and Springer now have 18 career postseason home runs each, which is tied for fifth all-time.

Zack Greinke put together a gutsy performance on the mound. He faced the minimum through three but surrendered a two-run homer to the sudden star Randy Arozarena in the fourth. He then got into a jam in the sixth, allowing a pair of one-out singles. He came back to strike out Arozarena but then allowed another single to load the bases with two outs. But Dusty Baker stuck with him.

Greinke rewarded his manager’s faith, striking out Mike Brosseau on a 3-2 changeup. After the game, Greinke told reporters, “It’s nice having someone have confidence in me. Since I’ve been here, they haven’t seemed to have confidence in my ability. It was nice having that happen at an important time like that.”

Now we know what Greinke really thinks about AJ Hinch’s much-maligned decision to pull him too quickly in Game Seven of the World Series last year. Greinke did confirm that particular game was an example, but also said “there’s probably a dozen examples if you look back at it.” No one ever accused the man of not being honest.

Want your voice heard? Join the Climbing Tal's Hill team!

Write for us!

Cristian Javier followed him with two-plus innings of sterling relief. When he walked the leadoff batter in the ninth, Baker quickly went to closer Ryan Pressly, who very nearly coughed up the game. He surrendered an RBI double and then allowed the runner to advance to third on a wild pitch. But he got that final out and the Astros will play at least one more game today at 4:07 p.m. CT.

Who Gets the Ball?

When asked who would start today’s ALCS Game Five, Baker didn’t say. What he did say, however, was that Framber Valdez would not take the mound, nor would Lance McCullers. Valdez would be on three days rest after pitching on Sunday, but even with the team facing elimination, Baker is choosing to protect his young arm and save him for a possible Game Six on full rest.

With Javier throwing two-plus innings in relief, he’s no longer an option to start today, or at least not in any meaningful way. I suppose they could trot him out there for a couple of innings, but that would be it. In all likelihood, the Astros appear to be headed toward a bullpen game as they try to stave off elimination for the second day in a row.

Luis Garcia and Chase De Jong are the candidates to make a traditional start or throw multiple innings, but they have their warts. Garcia has only five major league appearances to his credit and hasn’t pitched in a game in two and a half weeks. De Jong has more experience but coughed up 12 runs in 7.1 regular season innings.

If Baker intends to go with one of these guys, it needs to be Garcia. He may be unproven but he’s got a much higher ceiling. If he can give you a few solid innings, that would hopefully be enough. Either way, the offense is going to have to score, and it did a better job of that in Game Four than it has in this entire ALCS.

The Astros are the 39th team to trail 3-0 in a best-of-seven series in major league history, but only the ninth to force a Game Five. No such team has made it to Game Six since the 2004 Red Sox. So while it’s still very much an uphill climb for this team, there’s at least a remote possibility that they continue to push forward.