Astros force ALCS Game Seven behind Framber Valdez’s gem

The Houston Astros, led by Framber Valdez, forced a Game Seven in the ALCS.

The Houston Astros have become only the second team in MLB history to force a Game Seven in a best-of-seven series after losing the first three. Behind the arm of Framber Valdez, the Astros defeated the Rays 7-4 on Friday to even the ALCS at three apiece.

Valdez was sensational, just as he has been for much of his breakout 2020 campaign. He completed six innings, allowing one run on three hits and three walks and striking out nine. He got a total of 15 swings and misses on his curveball alone, which was the most by any pitcher in a postseason game in the pitch tracking era (since 2008).

The bullpen was shaky, though. Andre Scrubb allowed a solo homer to Manuel Margot in the seventh and then walked two batters, forcing Blake Taylor to come clean up the mess. Cristian Javier struck out the first two batters in the eighth, but allowed a two-out walk and then a home run to Margot. That forced Ryan Pressly to pitch the ninth, his third straight day of pitching.

Offensively, the Astros got going with a four-run fifth inning, and the catalyst was actually some small-ball. Yuli Gurriel drew a leadoff walk (one of his three walks in this game) and Aledmys Diaz followed with a single. Rays manager Kevin Cash quickly removed starter Blake Snell, which proved to be one of Cash’s rare mistakes.

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He brought in the flamethrowing righthander Diego Castillo to face Martin Maldonado, who laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move the runners up to second and third with one out. George Springer drove them in with a single, Jose Altuve followed with an RBI double, Michael Brantley drew a walk and Carlos Correa capped it off with an RBI single.

Kyle Tucker added another with a solo homer in the sixth, and the Astros tacked on two more in the seventh. They loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth, but failed to score. Thankfully that didn’t come back to haunt them in the end.

Key Takeaways

Correa has emphatically stepped into a leadership role on this team, and it showed in this game. After Rays first baseman Yandy Diaz started yelling at Valdez after Valdez walked him on a 3-2 curveball in the sixth, Correa ran interference and then got in Valdez’s face to pump him up for the next hitter. Valdez then induced a double play ball to get out of the inning.

What did Correa say that had such an impact? “Your job is not to go out there and be the bigger man, your job is to help us win this ballgame,” he told Valdez. That is the hallmark of a true leader, and is one of the many reasons why James Click and Jim Crane have to make sure Correa stays with this franchise for the long haul.

I’m still not sure what got Diaz so upset. The TV announcers suggested he may have been mad that Valdez didn’t challenge him with a fastball on a 3-2 count, but that seems a silly reason to start a ruckus. Maybe he was just mad that Valdez was carving up his teammates like a Thanksgiving turkey.

On the flip side, Alex Bregman’s struggles continue. He was moved down to fifth in the batting order for this game and went 0-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts and now has a .125 average and .317 OPS for this ALCS. He hit into a lot of bad luck earlier in the series but has genuinely struggled the past couple of games. Let’s hope he shows up for Game Seven.

Speaking of which, it will be Lance McCullers facing off against old friend Charlie Morton in the winner-take-all finale of this ALCS. The Astros are looking to win their third AL pennant in four years. First pitch will be at 7:37 p.m. CT tonight.