Astros' clinch denied: 'We're still in the lead'

Handed three-run lead, bullpen unable to shut the door

October 8th, 2020

Nine outs away from punching their ticket to the American League Championship Series, the Astros have suddenly found themselves in a fight with the A's, whose bats came alive in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium.

The Astros were riding high after scoring five times in the fifth inning Wednesday, including a two-run homer by , to take a three-run lead, but the A's finally cracked Houston's bullpen to push across five runs in the seventh and eighth and steal a 9-7 win.

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Still, the Astros lead the best-of-five series, 2-1, and have two more chances to close out the A's, beginning with Thursday's Game 4. The Astros lost Game 3 of the ALDS after building a 2-0 lead in two of the three previous seasons and still managed to close it out.

"We're still in the lead," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "This team has been there before. These guys don't seem real worried about it. We got beat today. We made some mistakes. Hopefully we don't make those mistakes tomorrow."

In the history of best-of-five postseason series, teams with a 2-1 lead have gone on to win the series 62 of 87 times (71 percent). However, last season, two of the three teams that fell behind 2-1 in the Division Series -- the Nationals (vs. Dodgers) and Cardinals (vs. Braves) -- came back to win.

With the ball flying out in the afternoon heat at Dodger Stadium, the teams have combined for 18 homers in the ALDS, which is a record for combined homers in the first three games of any playoff series.

"We knew it was going to be crazy from the beginning," Baker said. "You could tell the way the ball is jumping that both sides are going to hit homers. … Even balls they missed were going all the way to the wall. You're moving on the edge of your seat when you're seeing the balls fly like this."

No homer was bigger than Chad Pinder's three-run blast to right field off Astros reliever in the seventh. Pinder's homer -- the fifth by the A's in the game and first with men on base -- tied the game at 7 and could ultimately be a turning point in the ALDS. Oakland scored twice off Brooks Raley in the eighth.

"It's tough, but everybody wants to get put in that situation," James said. "You always feel like you're the right guy for the job. You go out and no matter how long it's been, you compete, and today I just got beat. It's part of the game and tomorrow's another day and another opportunity. You have to be ready for that and wipe the slate clean today."

The Astros' bullpen, one of their weakest links in the regular season, had compiled 18 1/3 scoreless innings in the playoffs before Pinder launched a three-run homer down the right-field line. That was the end of the line for James, who was pitching for the first time since Sept. 22. Oakland's hitters were 1-for-24 from the sixth through ninth innings in losing Games 1 and 2 before erupting late Wednesday.

"He was hanging that breaking ball," Baker said. "He didn't have anything really working except his fastball, and he was kind of limited when you don't have a whole bunch of secondary pitches. His changeup was really working like usual. I think he hung two or three breaking balls. We hung breaking balls all day and couldn't get that breaking ball down. That was the ballgame."

Baker has yet to decide who will start Game 4, but admitted -- who was dealing with arm soreness in recent days -- is an option. Cristian Javier, who threw an inning in relief in Game 1, is likely an option as well. But the Astros certainly need some kind of length from their Game 4 starter considering their bullpen is getting thin.

"We keep scoring the way we are, we're in pretty good shape," Baker said.

Indeed. The Astros are hitting .302 as a team with eight homers through the first three games of the ALDS, averaging 7.3 runs per game.

Oakland built a 4-2 lead on four solo homers off starter Jose Urquidy before the Astros took a 7-4 lead with five runs in the fifth. Díaz's blast tied the game, and RBI hits by , and put Houston ahead. Oakland's stellar bullpen shut the door, though, with closer Liam Hendricks throwing the final three innings, highlighted by a strikeout of Josh Reddick with two on base to end the eighth.

"[Manager] Bob [Melvin] told me to be ready early, so apparently I was ready early," Hendricks said. "I got down to the bullpen my normal time and got called in the sixth inning and ran with it. I wasn't coming out of that game. You were going to have to wrench that ball out of my hand. I don't want to give it up."