Astros hold on to beat Rays and stay alive in the ALCS

From there, reliever Cristian Javier worked two scoreless innings, walked the leadoff man in the ninth before Ryan Pressly spelled him a...

From there, reliever Cristian Javier worked two scoreless innings, walked the leadoff man in the ninth before Ryan Pressly spelled him and pitched around Willy Adames’s RBI double off the wall. Pressly stranded the tying run on third. That’s how the Astros edged a team that was chugging straight past them.

Now we’ll see if any of the formula is repeatable.

The numbers were stacked with the Rays before first pitch. They had won Tyler Glasnow’s past 11 outings, stretching way back to early August. They were the 39th team to take a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series, and 37 — save the New York Yankees in 2004 — had finished the job. It meant that, if both rich and recent history repeated, the Rays would promptly dismiss the Astros. Then Game 4 mirrored Game 3 right away.

No one had questioned José Altuve’s bat. In fact, in three of the four first innings here, Altuve clocked a solo homer to nudge Houston ahead. It was another high fastball, 100 mph at the letters, that Altuve took out to left. Glasnow muttered into his glove once he walked off the mound. The Astros had a hint of traction. But unlike in Games 1, 2 and 3, there was more where that came from.

Pan right back to Altuve. He’d spent most of this week on the wrong side of mistakes. A throwing error revved the Rays in a 4-2 win to put them up 2-0. Another throwing error led to Tampa Bay’s five-run inning in a 5-2 victory Tuesday. Reporters asked Manager Dusty Baker about the yips. Baker, a baseball lifer, couldn’t say whether Altuve had them. He just knew that, for the Astros to recover, they needed the fielding to tighten. They needed their star second baseman to play like one.

And he did. After that first-inning homer, Altuve ripped an RBI double in the third. The Astros pushed ahead by two runs. Zack Greinke was cruising through the Rays. Everything was clicking until, in the breezy distance, a bullhorn went off.

The initial sound was a siren, like someone pulled the fire alarm in a nearby building. But it was meant to signal the start of a midgame message. A man with a megaphone had a few things to say. First, with his voice cutting through fake crowd noise, he introduced the Astros’ cheating scandal. He mentioned them illegally stealing signs in 2017 and 2018. He told them, if they were even listening, that “the baseball community has not forgotten your transgressions.” Then he went down the list.

“José Altuve … you are a cheater, shame on you.”

“Carlos Correa … you are a cheater, shame on you.”

“Josh Reddick … you are a cheater, shame on you.”

Back on the field, where each muffled charge was audible, Greinke yielded a single to Rays outfielder Austin Meadows. Megaphone Man thanked his audience and retired for the night. And on cue, as if spurred by a gust of karma, Randy Arozarena lined a score-knotting homer to left.

With that swing, he became the third rookie with five homers in one postseason. Arozarena entered with eight extra-base hits and a .462 average in these playoffs. In the Rays’ dugout, outfielder Brett Phillips wrote an acrostic poem on a white tiny whiteboard. It used R-A-N-D-Y to spell out: “Rakes All Night Day Year.”

But the next big swing belonged to Springer. By crushing that two-run shot, an inning after Arozarena tied it, Springer reclaimed the Astros’ all-time lead for postseason homers. His 19th came off a fastball that left Glasnow’s hand at 98 mph. It set up Baker’s high-wire act in the next half.

Once the Rays hit back-to-back singles, the manager made his way to the mound. Pressly was warm and made it halfway down the steps out of Houston’s bullpen. Yet Baker wasn’t quite ready for Pressly. After a short chat, he left in Greinke to face Arozarena as the go-ahead run. Greinke responded by striking him out on a borderline check swing.

That tallied two outs with two on. Ji-Man Choi then dribbled an infield single to load the bases. Greinke looked at Baker, figuring the 71-year-old would again emerge from the dugout. Greinke had not completed six innings since Sept. 8. He had not topped 90 pitches since. Baker, though, pushed him for one more batter, utility man Mike Brosseau.

And when Greinke struck him out, too — with a change-up below the zone — catcher Martin Maldanado clenched his free hand, punched his mitt through the air, pointed at Greinke and nodded as if his head were a greased seesaw. Greinke, typically stone-faced, the sort of guy who shrugs off any moment, allowed himself to grin. Baker and his club had juggled fire, stuck their fingers near the flames, and came out unburned and breathing. They now have to do that three more times.

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Newsrust: Astros hold on to beat Rays and stay alive in the ALCS
Astros hold on to beat Rays and stay alive in the ALCS
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