The Houston Astros held off postseason elimination by defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday. Tampa Bay now leads the best-of-seven series 3-1.
Jose Altuve and George Springer knocked in all four Astro runs.
Altuve hit a first-inning solo home run and third-inning RBI double to put Houston up 2-0.
In the fifth, Springer smacked a two-run homer that landed on the top level of the Western Metal Supply Co. building to give Houston a 4-2 lead.
Prior to that shot, Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena launched his fifth playoff home run in the fourth to knot the score at two:
Rays shortstop Willy Adames knocked home Joey Wendle with a two-out RBI double in the ninth off Astros closer Ryan Pressly, but a long Yoshi Tsutsugo flyout ended the game.
Astros SP Zack Greinke: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 K (Win)
Astros OF George Springer: 3-for-4, 1 R, 2 RBI, HR
Astros 2B Jose Altuve: 2-for-4, 1 R, 2 RBI, HR
Rays SP Tyler Glasnow: 6.0 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K (Loss)
Rays OF Randy Arozarena: 1-for-4, 1 R, 2 RBI, HR
Rays OF Austin Meadows: 2-for-4, 1 R
Altuve, Springer Keep Astros Alive
The ALCS had not been kind to Altuve and Springer prior to Game 4.
Altuve committed three throwing errors, including two in a 4-2 loss to the Rays in Game 2. Springer went cold at the dish, going 2-for-14 with two singles, no runs, no RBI and three strikeouts.
Game 4 was a far different story, however.
In the field, Houston didn't commit an error, with Altuve taking care of his putouts. The Astros had no wiggle room for mistakes with Houston never holding more than a two-run lead in a tight game all the way through.
At the plate, Altuve and Springer did nearly all the work. The bat hasn't been a problem for Altuve this series, as he's now hitting .412 over four games with three home runs.
The bright spot was Springer, though, as the leadoff hitter broke a fifth-inning tie with a no-doubt homer, per Statcast, and gave the Astros much-needed breathing room.
Altuve and Springer have caused playoff havoc numerous times in the past, as Elias Sports Bureau (h/t ESPN Stats & Info) noted:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Jose Altuve and George Springer have both hit their 18th career postseason HR tonight. It is the 4th time they have homered in the same playoff game. The only set of teammates ever to do it more often is another Astros duo, Springer and Carlos Correa (7). h/t @EliasSports https://t.co/v61DIQk9XC
They've also found themselves in great historical company, per baseball analyst Ryan M. Spaeder:
The Astros have to make more history to move on to the World Series. They need three wins to join a list of one team (the 2004 Boston Red Sox) as the only franchises to come back from a 3-0 playoff series deficit.
It's a lot easier said than done, and the Rays hold the edge. However, if Altuve and Springer stay hot, then Houston will be very difficult to put away.
Rays Can't Find Last Big Hit
The game's pivot point occurred in the top of the sixth inning, with the Rays' Michael Brosseau at the plate and the bases loaded with two out.
Astros starter Zack Greinke was on his last legs, to the point where it wouldn't have been surprising if manager Dusty Baker went to the bullpen.
That didn't happen, with Baker explaining his decision postgame:
Hector Ledesma @HectorLedesmaTV
Just now... #Astros post-game reaction Dusty Baker on what he said to Greinke in that late visit to the mound: "We really didn't have a conversation. The conversation was between me and Maldy. Maldy told me, he can get this guy." Notesd the 'look in Zack's eyes' #ForTheH
Baker was a bit nervous about his decision:
Greinke then went to work, mixing fastballs, changeups and a slider. Brosseau worked the count full, leading to a dramatic moment, but the veteran right-hander got him swinging at an 88 mph changeup in the dirt for the punchout:
Regardless of whether you believe the Astros made the right move or if they played with fire without getting burned, Houston held a 4-2 edge into the bottom of the sixth.
The Rays' only baserunner in the next two innings came courtesy of a Tsutsugo two-out single, although nothing came of it.
Tampa Bay got to work in the ninth, though, when Adames smacked his RBI double to score Wendle and put himself in scoring position as the tying run.
At that juncture, Pressly went to work on Tsutsugo, starting him with a fastball before working in a steady dose of sliders. If the power-hitting Tsustugo got a hold of one, he could have parked it in the right-field seats and given Tampa a 5-4 lead.
And for a brief moment, it seems that he may have done so, although the result was a long flyout to Springer safely in front of the warning track.
MLB.com's Mike Petriello recalled those moments while giving a shoutout to TBS color commentator Ron Darling for an astute observation:
Tampa Bay may not have gotten that one last big hit to tie or take the lead, but the Rays still hold a 3-1 edge in a series where they'll still be heavily favored.
Tampa Bay and Houston will play Game 5 in San Diego at 5:07 p.m. ET Thursday.
If Houston wins, Game 6 will be Friday at 6:07 p.m. Game 7 would occur at 8:37 p.m. Saturday.
The Rays are looking to make the World Series for the second time in franchise history and first since 2008.
Houston, which has made the ALCS in four straight seasons, is looking for its third pennant and second World Series in that span.
The ALCS victor will face the winner of the National League Championship Series between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. Atlanta leads that best-of-seven contest 2-1 after L.A. beat the Braves 15-3 on Wednesday.