The Rays remain tantalizingly close to their first trip to the World Series in a dozen years. But the Astros are still very much alive. They made that clear with a 4-3 victory on Wednesday night, and they can make an even louder statement in Game 5 on Thursday afternoon at Petco Park in San Diego.
Prior to the Astros this week, 38 teams had fallen behind 3-0 in a best-of-seven postseason series. Only three have ever rallied to reach a Game 6. Houston is looking to join that club -- and ultimately join the 2004 Red Sox as the only teams in baseball history to overcome such a deficit.
“I’m not ready to go home,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker. “Nobody’s ready to go home.”
Here’s everything you need to know about Game 5:
When is the game and how can I watch it?
The game will air on TBS at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday. It is also available to stream on MLB.TV with authentication.
Who will be the ‘home’ team at the neutral site?
By virtue of having higher playoff seeding, the Rays batted last in Games 1 and 2. The Astros did so in Games 3 and 4 and will do so again in Game 5. Should the series advance to Games 6 and 7, the Rays would be considered the home team.
What do the starting lineups look like?
Rays: After not starting Game 4, Brandon Lowe, who struck out in a pinch-hit appearance in the ninth inning Wednesday, is back in the leadoff spot.
1) Brandon Lowe, 2B
2) Randy Arozarena, LF
3) Austin Meadows, RF
4) Yandy Díaz, DH
5) Ji-Man Choi, 1B
6) Manuel Margot, CF
7) Joey Wendle, 3B
8) Willy Adames, SS
9) Mike Zunino, C
Astros: Baker hasn’t made any wholesale changes to his lineup the entire playoffs. He tweaked it a bit for Game 4 by moving Michael Brantley to the second spot and dropping Jose Altuve down one spot to third. With the Rays starting right-hander John Curtiss, Josh Reddick gets the nod in right. Brantley, who fouled a ball off his foot late in Game 4 and was removed for a defensive replacement in the ninth inning, will DH instead of playing left.
1) George Springer, CF
2) Michael Brantley, DH
3) Jose Altuve, 2B
4) Alex Bregman, 3B
5) Carlos Correa, SS
6) Kyle Tucker, LF
7) Yuli Gurriel, 1B
8) Josh Reddick, RF
9) Martín Maldonado, C
Who are the starting pitchers?
Rays: Tampa Bay announced John Curtiss would start in what will be a bullpen game. In two games against Houston in the series, the righty has hurled two scoreless innings of relief while allowing three hits and striking out one.
Astros: Baker announced rookie Luis Garcia will get the start in Game 5. Garcia, who had not pitched above Class A prior to this season, showed flashes in five appearances (one start) during the regular season, with a 2.92 ERA and 0.97 WHIP over 12 1/3 innings. He hasn’t pitched since throwing one-third of an inning on Sept. 27 and hasn’t thrown more than two innings since a five-inning outing Sept. 9 in his second big league game.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Rays: It’ll all depend on who starts for the Rays, but the trio of Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo did not make an appearance in Game 4 and should all be available for multiple innings. Expect the Rays to be aggressive with their bullpen on Thursday if they have a chance to wrap up the series.
Astros: Considering it’s unlikely the Astros will get much length out of Garcia, De Jong or whoever starts the game, it will be all hands on deck in an elimination game. Both Garcia and De Jong will probably pitch at some point, and expect Josh James, Andre Scrubb, Enoli Paredes, Brooks Raley and Blake Taylor available for an inning. None pitched in Game 4.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Rays: Though Tyler Glasnow allowed four runs in Game 4, the right-hander was able to go six innings, setting the bullpen up nicely for Game 5. José Alvarado made his first appearance since Aug. 14 and threw 22 pitches, so the left-hander -- returning from injury -- could be down on Thursday.
Astros: The only pitcher they might try to stay away from is Javier, who threw 35 pitches in two-plus innings in Game 4. But Javier said postgame Wednesday he was willing to take the ball when the phone rings in the bullpen.
Any injuries of note?
Rays: Kevin Kiermaier left Game 3 after being hit on the left hand by a fastball, but X-rays were negative.
Astros: Brantley fouled a ball off his foot in the seventh inning in Game 4 and was removed for defensive purposes in the ninth.
Who is hot and who is not?
Rays: His teammates say that he’s the best player on the planet and it’s hard to disagree with what Arozarena has been doing in the postseason. With another home run in Game 4, Arozarena now has five home runs this postseason, becoming just the third rookie to accomplish the feat in a single postseason.
Lowe struck out in the ninth inning and continued his postseason slump. The Rays’ Hank Aaron Award nominee is now 3-for-40 in the postseason.
Astros: Altuve went 2-for-3 in Game 4 and homered in the first inning, just as he did in Games 1 and 3. He has homered in five of his last six games to give him 18 career postseason homers, tied for the most in Astros franchise history with Springer, who also homered in Game 4.
Bregman (.200), Correa (.143), Tucker (.214) and Springer (.278) have cooled off in the ALCS after red-hot performances in the ALDS.
Anything else fans want to know?
Rays: They haven’t lost back-to-back games since Sept. 7-8 against the Nationals ... Tampa Bay has allowed two runs or fewer in six of 11 postseason games ... The bullpen has stranded all 21 inherited runners this postseason, the longest streak to begin a postseason in Major League history.
Astros: Houston was 0-6 at Petco Park this year before winning Game 4 of the ALCS … Altuve has the most playoff RBIs (39) by a Venezuelan-born player, passing Miguel Cabrera (38) … Springer ranks second all-time in MLB postseason history in RBIs by a leadoff hitter (31), behind only Derek Jeter (32) … Game 4 marked the fourth time that Altuve and Springer have homered in the same postseason game. The only set of teammates to do it more often are Springer and Correa (seven) … Gurriel, Bregman, Springer, Correa and Altuve have played in more postseason games together than any other group of five teammates in MLB history (54 games). The previous record was 53 games, reached by two groups of Yankees players: Jeter, Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez, Chuck Knoblauch and Bernie Williams; and Brosius, Jeter, Martinez, Williams and Paul O’Neill.
Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.