SAN DIEGO (AP) — George Springer and José Altuve keyed a four-run rally in the fifth inning, Framber Valdéz pitched six brilliant innings and the Houston Astros beat the Tampa Bay Rays for the third straight game, 7-4 Friday to force a deciding Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.
Houston chased starter Blake Snell in the fifth before Springer hit a go-ahead, two-run single and scored on Altuve’s double. Carlos Correa, who hit a walkoff home run in Thursday night’s 4-3 win, added an RBI single.
The Astros are one win away from their third World Series in four seasons and joining the 2004 Boston Red Sox as the only teams to rally from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series. The Red Sox stunned the New York Yankees to win the ALCS before winning their first World Series in 86 seasons.
Otherwise, big league clubs leading 3-0 in a best-of-seven postseason series are 37-1.
Houston also is trying to become the first team to win a pennant with a losing regular season record (29-31). The Astros have been criticized for their role in a cheating scandal en route to the 2017 title that was uncovered last offseason.
Manuel Margot homered twice and drove in three runs for the Rays, who after blowing the 3-0 series lead remain one win away from the second World Series in franchise history and moved within one loss from joining the 2004 Yankees in ignominy.
Game 7 on Saturday night will feature the pitchers who started and finished Houston’s Game 7 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series. Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. will go for the Astros while 36-year-old Charlie Morton is expected to start for the Rays. In the decisive Game 7 in 2017, McCullers started and went 2 1/3 scoreless innings while Morton pitched the final four innings for the victory. Morton signed with Tampa Bay prior to the 2019 season.
It’s also a rematch of Game 2 of this series, won 4-2 by Morton and the Rays.
Valdéz (3-1), who lost the opener of this series 2-1 to Snell (2-2), held the Astros to one run and three hits while striking out nine and walking three in his third career postseason start. He allowed Willy Adames RBI double to left in the second.
Astros closer Ryan Pressly pitched for the third straight day and got three outs for his second save to go with a win in Game 5. He allowed Yoshitomo Tsutsugo’s one-out single, then induced Mike Brosseau’s game-ending double-play grounder, a call upheld in a video review. Pressly threw nine pitches, all for strikes, raising his three-day total to 39.
The Astros' 71-year-old skipper, Dusty Baker, who led NL teams for the first 22 seasons of his 23-year managerial career, used some old-school baseball to outfox his younger counterpart, 42-year-old Kevin Cash, to overturn a 1-0 deficit in the fifth. The rally had only one hard-hit ball. The Astros had been frustrated in the first three games when they scalded balls right to fielders.
Snell walked Yuli Gurriel opening the fifth and allowed a single to Aledmys Díaz on his 82nd pitch. Cash, whose team was built around analytics, pulled Snell before he could face the No. 9 batter, catcher Martín Maldonado, and leadoff hitter Springer, who had struck out twice.
Maldonado laid down a sacrifice bunt against Diego Castillo and Springer punched a two-run single to center through a hole in Tampa Bay’s drawn-in infield that was also in a shift. Altuve followed with a double into the left-field corner that brought in Springer, who might have been out if Brandon Lowe had hit the cutoff man.
After Michael Brantley walked, Correa singled to left to bring in Altuve.
Snell allowed two runs and three hits in four-plus innings, struck out four and walked four.
Baker, hired after AJ Hinch was fired following the revelation of the sign-stealing scandal, is the first manager to take five different teams to the playoffs. He has yet to win a World Series as a manager. His San Francisco Giants reached the 2002 Fall Classic before losing in seven games to the Angels. As a player, he helped the Los Angeles Dodgers win the World Series in 1981 against the New York Yankees.
Houston’s Kyle Tucker homered off rookie Shane McClanahan leading off the sixth. In the seventh, Michael Brantley hit an RBI single and Tucker a sacrifice fly.
Margot homered off Andre Scrubb leading off the Rays' seventh and hit a two-run shot off Cristian Javier with two outs in the eighth.