HOUSTON -- Who says you have to wait to clinch the division to have a celebration at Minute Maid Park?
“It was huge,” Castro said. “Obviously, going into Oakland didn’t pan out the way we had envisioned, but coming home and falling down early was not a great start. The pitching did a great job keeping us close.”
The Astros, who snapped a four-game losing streak, can clinch the AL West by beating the Rays on Wednesday at Minute Maid Park.
“We certainly didn’t need to lose another one,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We were playing a quality team. These guys, they rise to the occasion. I’m glad we were home and glad we had the energy from the fans. I had to remove myself from being a fan. That was a good game to watch; good game to play.”
• Game remaining: 2 vs. Rays, 3 vs. A’s
• Standings update: Astros lead the AL West by 4 1/2 games over Mariners
• Magic number for homefield advantage in ALDS: 3 (over the White Sox)
Jose Altuve’s career-high-tying 31st homer of the season tied the game in the eighth, but Randy Arozarena -- who hit four homers against the Astros in the AL Championship Series last year -- put the Rays ahead, 3-2, with a homer in the ninth.
The Astros strung together a string of quality at-bats in the ninth, beginning with Yordan Alvarez and Carlos Correa beating out infield hits. With the bases loaded and one out, McCormick drew a 10-pitch walk against JT Chargois, forcing home pinch-runner Jose Siri as the tying run.
“That was a hell of an at-bat by McCormick,” Baker said. “He battled them and battled them and took some quality pitches. The same for Castro. Castro took the ball inside that the pitcher thought was a strike and then worked him to 3-2, and we certainly didn’t need to go into extra innings. We want to win that tonight.”
Castro, who was pinch-hitting, worked an eight-pitch walk, taking an inside pitch at the knees for ball four. Correa trotted home with the winning run, moving the Astros to the cusp of their fourth AL West title in five years.
“It was amazing,” Altuve said. “Both at-bats, starting with Chas tying the game right here, how many pitches he saw, close to 10. He was grinding. He was focused on getting the job done. We’re all happy that he did it. Jason following with the same type of at-bat -- a lot of pitches, a lot of foul balls and they ended up walking him -- that’s amazing.”
Castro perhaps benefitted from having caught Chargois while both were with the Twins.
“I just wanted to go up there and not do too much,” Castro said. “I knew he was probably having a little bit of some command issues but at the same time, that might be the opportunity where he tries to get the ball in the strike zone. It’s a little bit of the game ... trying to figure out the best approach. I tried to stay within myself and tried not to get too overexcited and chase.”
The Astros didn’t hang around the clubhouse to watch the end of the Mariners-A’s game, choosing instead to go their own way for the night. The bigger celebration will have to wait for a team that’s enjoyed few through the years.
“They continue to believe,” Baker said. “You would not have believed that we would have lost four in a row down the stretch here. You walk in the clubhouse, and the music’s blasting and guys are laughing and there’s really no tension. I’ve been in clubhouses where you could cut the tension with a knife. These guys, they believe that we can win and will win.”