In his still-young MLB career Carlos Correa has proven to be someone built for the biggest stages. He proved it yet again Thursday, when his walk-off homer saved the Astros season and forced a Game 6 in their ALCS against the Rays.
With the game tied 3-3 in the ninth, Correa was one of the last people the Rays wanted to see at the plate. He’d already hit five homers this postseason and with one out, against Nick Anderson, one of the Rays’ best pitchers, Correa unleashed a blast to the deepest part of the ballpark.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 16, 2020
The Astros’ to-do list before Game 5 of the ALCS seemed a bit improbable: They had to beat the Rays again to stave off elimination. They couldn’t let postseason superstar Randy Arozarena beat them. And they had to do all that while starting a rookie pitcher who had one previous big league start.
And then, when the Rays tied the game in the eighth inning, the Astros had one more improbable thing to overcome. And now, wouldn’t you know it, the narrative in this series has shifted from the Astros throwing away wins to the Astros eeking out wins with their backs against the wall.
The Astros started off on the right foot, when George Springer homered in the first inning. They got a two-run single from Michael Brantley in the third inning. Things were looking good until Ji-Man Choi homered in the eighth inning to reset things. Credit to Correa and the Astros, they didn’t crumble when yet another thing didn’t go their way in this series.
This game brought us the best example yet of the strategic shift required in MLB’s 2020 postseason format. It was Game 5 and neither team had a go-to starting pitcher, a problem amplified by the no-days-off schedule in these bubble ballparks. Normally, a team would have the top of its rotation back at this point, but not when there are no travel days.
The Astros sent Luis Garcia to the mound, a 23-year-old who had exactly one big-league start before this and had never pitched above Single-A before this season. The Rays went with John Curtiss as their opener, also a rookie but 27 years old.
So this was strictly survival for both teams, with the Astros looking to stay alive completely and the Rays hoping to move on to the World Series without having to see the best Astros pitchers again.
Now the Astros will feel renewed going into the Game 6, knowing they can beat the Rays two games in a row — because they just did.
In this one, it was Correa’s homer as the no-doubt choice. But we’ll give a runner-up nod here to George Springer’s majestic first-inning blast. Springer also has a knack for dingers on the big stage and his are just pretty.
The series rolls along with Game 6 on Friday. It's another potential clincher for Tampa Bay. The Rays will turn back to Game 1 starter Blake Snell, who limited the Astros to one run over five innings in a 2-1 victory. Houston did have the former Cy Young award winner on the ropes at times, but were unable to break through with a big inning. We'll see if they've figured anything out since then.
The Astros will bring back Game 1 starter Framber Valdez (he would have pitched the 10th had this game gone that far). The 26-year-old was very impressive, holding the Rays to two runs over six innings while striking out eight. He's been a rock for Dusty Baker in the postseason, posting a 2.00 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 18 innings.
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