The Houston Astros are one win away from their second World Series appearance in three years.
Houston defeated the New York Yankees 8-3 in Thursday's Game 4 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium, extending its lead to 3-1. Even if they lose the next game on the road, the Astros will have two chances at home to put the series away after George Springer and Carlos Correa spearheaded Thursday's effort with three-run homers.
As for the Yankees, they will have to win three straight to reach their first Fall Classic since 2009 and avoid an ALCS loss to Houston for the second time in three years.
Notable Player Stats
- Zack Greinke: 4.1 innings, one earned run, three hits, four walks and five strikeouts
- George Springer: 1-for-5, one home run, three RBI and one run
- Carlos Correa: 1-for-5, one home run, three RBI and one run
- Masahiro Tanaka: five innings, three earned runs, four hits, two walks and one strikeout
- Gary Sanchez: 1-for-4, one home run, two RBI and one run
Even Mediocre Greinke Enough for Loaded Astros
Houston's only loss in this series came in Game 1 when Zack Greinke struggled with consistency, and he appeared headed down the same path Thursday.
He walked three batters in the first inning alone, couldn't get through the fifth and continued a lackluster postseason that also saw him allow six earned runs in 3.2 innings in the AL Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Still, Greinke deserves credit for limiting the damage and setting the stage for some familiar postseason faces to take over. Springer started the fireworks for the visitors in the third with his three-run blast off Masahiro Tanaka, who then needed to escape a jam with runners on the corners and nobody out just to keep the game close.
The 2017 World Series MVP moved into first place on the Astros' postseason home run list, further cementing his status in franchise lore:
Correa, who already won Game 2 with a walk-off homer in extra innings, did the heavy lifting from there and broke the game open in the sixth with his long ball off Chad Green.
It was enough run support to survive Josh James giving up two runs out of the bullpen and has the Astros on the brink of a World Series appearance. The outcome of that World Series could come down to whether Greinke rediscovers his form as a Cy Young winner, two-time ERA champion and six-time All-Star who is still capable of dominating for extended stretches.
The one-two punch of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole is as good as there is in the league but could be tasked with matching up against Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. That means the other starters could be the difference-makers, and Greinke's ceiling is still ace material.
Houston could use that version the next time out in case the three-run homers disappear.
Missed Chances Doom Yankees
Starting pitching has been the question mark for the Yankees the entire season, which puts the onus on the powerful lineup and formidable bullpen to come through almost every game.
While Tanaka has been the answer to that question in these playoffs after allowing one earned run and four hits in his first 11 innings of work, his mistake to Springer and Green's mistake to Correa meant it was up to the offense to engineer a comeback.
There were flashes, such as when Gary Sanchez snapped out of a slump and drilled a two-run homer in the sixth, but the offense's performance was ultimately defined by missed chances.
The Yankees didn't wait long to squander those opportunities. Greinke walked Brett Gardner with the bases loaded for his third base on balls in the opening frame, which opened the door for Sanchez to do serious damage and perhaps force Houston to turn to its bullpen right away.
Instead, he struck out and established a theme.
Aaron Judge struck out with a runner in scoring position to end the second and sixth innings, Didi Gregorius popped out with a runner on second to end the eighth, and the Bronx Bombers failed to score in the fifth even though they chased Greinke and loaded the bases with one out. Ryan Pressly was the unheralded hero for Houston, though, and struck out Gleyber Torres and Edwin Encarnacion to preserve the lead.
Creating opportunities in a series against Verlander, Cole and Greinke is no easy task, and it is always just a matter of time before the Astros' bats come alive.
If New York doesn't figure out how to come through in those situations, the offseason is just one game away.
Game 5 is Friday in New York.