Astros' quintet not ready to scatter just yet

October 15th, 2020

’s message to his teammates was simple: If this is where it ends, it has to be done a certain way.

“Just go out and play as hard as you possibly can,” he said. “Go leave everything out there. Don’t leave any doubt. If there's a play that you think that you have to dive, dive.

“Just understanding that your backs are up against the wall. And you got to grind and fight, and at the end of the day, whatever happens happens.”

That’s what the Astros did in defeating the Rays, 4-3, in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday night at Petco Park. Tampa Bay leads the best-of-seven series, 3-1, and still has plenty of wiggle room in attempting to reach the World Series for the first time since 2008.

Isn’t it funny how time slips away? The Astros’ quintet of Springer, , , and played their 54th postseason game together, a Major League record. They broke the previous record for a quintet, passing the 53 playoff games together by two groups of Yankees, according to research by James Smyth of the YES Network.

(One group included Scott Brosius, Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill. The other is O’Neill, Brosius, Jeter, Martinez, Williams and Chuck Knoblauch.)

The Astros almost certainly will be different in 2021, perhaps dramatically so. Springer, and appear headed for free agency. That all three would return seems like the longest of long shots.

So in a 3-0 hole against the Rays, the Astros held a brief team meeting to emphasize all the things Springer said. Then manager Dusty Baker spoke to his players, as well.

“You know, we’ve got some real leaders on this team, some dominant personalities,” Baker said, “and they listen more than they talk. And that's what real leaders do. They listen to what other people have to say. So I really don't know what they said [to one another].

“We meet sometimes too much. All you can do is state the obvious. We’re about to get eliminated if we lose this game. Nobody's ready to go home. We’re ready to go to Dallas [for the World Series in Arlington that begins Tuesday]. This is kind of what my message was.

"We’re one step closer to the top of that mountain, but we’ve got a couple of steep cliffs the next couple days.”

Altuve’s first-inning homer -- his fifth in his last six postseason games -- got the Astros going, and Springer’s towering two-run shot in the fifth inning gave them the lead for good.

Baker got six excellent innings from , two from and one from . So this was a break for a team that had been watching the Rays ride their pitching-and-defense formula to three straight victories.

When Baker was asked who will be his starting pitcher for Game 5, he seemed to run down the possibilities in his mind, eliminating and .

If that sounds like a problem, it’s one he was happy to have. Perhaps what the Astros needed more than almost anything was to get a bit of their swagger back. Winning Game 4 was a step in that direction.

If their team meeting accomplished anything, it was to remind one another of all the success they’ve had and that they were still capable of putting up a fight. Then they went out and did it.

“I think the key for us is the good chemistry, the good relationships we have between us,” Altuve said. “We talk a lot. We motivate each other. We encourage each other to go out there and play our game, and we did that today. I’m very thankful.”

If there was any sense that this was the end of an era, it never came up. Instead, the Astros decided to keep it simple.

“We played our game today,” Altuve said. “Tomorrow’s another big one for us, of course, and we’re going to go that way.”