HOUSTON -- The Astros opened Game 5 of the American League Division Series with a lethal weapon in starter Gerrit Cole, who, if history was any kind of indicator, probably was going to require only one or two runs of support to guide his team to a win.
So when the Astros pushed four across the plate in the first inning of their 6-1 win over the Rays that punched their ticket to the AL Championship Series, the margin probably felt a little wider. Even with eight more innings to cover -- and Eric Sogard's leadoff homer in the next frame that cut the lead just a tad -- it's fair to say Houston was feeling good at that point about its chances to see this one through.
Turns out, they could have stopped at two runs and still won the game.
“To get Gerrit a lead, to make them play from behind a little bit, it was obviously huge for us," said George Springer, who led off the rally with a base hit to left. "Playing from behind is not easy. We spent basically Games 3 and 4 playing from behind. It's not easy to do, so for us to have a lead was pretty big."
Facing right-hander Tyler Glasnow for the second time in a week, the Astros sent four men to the plate before the Rays recorded their first out. Springer, who was 2-for-17 in the ALDS prior to his hit, advanced to third on Michael Brantley's single, and José Altuve followed with a base hit to right-center, scoring Springer.
"It was just one at-bat after another," Bregman said. "I think Springer's at-bat to lead off the game to give us that first guy on was one of the biggest hits of our season. Then you see Brantley do it, and Springer go first to third, and use our athleticism we have."
"One of the biggest at-bats that nobody will talk about is George Springer leading off the bottom of the first with a bullet single," manager AJ Hinch said. "And that kick-started us off with good at-bat after good at-bat. The opposite-field approach, the base hits, they hit the ball hard. Yordan battling for contact to move Bregman up, Yuli with the ground ball base hit through the hole. There were just so many good at-bats that we put them on their heels from the very beginning."
According to STATS, Houston is the first team to start a winner-take-all playoff game with four consecutive hits. It was 6-0 in the regular season when scoring four or more runs in the first inning.
The offensive outburst may have been aided by Glasnow, who told reporters after the game he may have been tipping off the Astros as to what pitch was coming by the way he was holding his glove. Glasnow said he was holding it higher when throwing a fastball, and lower when throwing a curveball.
If that was picked up by the Astros, they weren't offering any confirmations during their postgame clinching celebration.
"No, no, no," Bregman said. "He's as tough to face as anybody. I think if you went around and asked everybody on our team -- it was just a team approach today."
Bregman followed that up with high praise for the Tampa Bay right-hander.
"The ball that Glasnow throws, that cutter, the four-seam cutter that he throws is unbelievable," Bregman said. "His breaking ball goes from your head to your toes quick. So I feel like with him, you just had to pick a pitch and try to put a pretty good swing on it."
Houston's offense cooled for the next six innings, but it sprung back to life in the eighth, when Brantley and Altuve knocked back-to-back homers to put the game out of reach.
"We really came out pretty determined to just pass the baton to the next guy, and you saw that happen,” Hinch said. “For as potent offense as we have with the home run, and Mike's home run at the end of the game was huge just to continue to tack on runs and give us a more comfortable lead."