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As tide turns, are Rays feeling the heat?

Red Sox's 2004 comeback fueling Astros' hopes of remarkable rally
@RichardJustice
October 16, 2020

The Rays are still one victory from the World Series, and how about someone remind them of that tidbit? What they need more than anything right now is a 30,000-foot view of things. Which is the absolute hardest thing in the world to do at a time like this. That’s

The Rays are still one victory from the World Series, and how about someone remind them of that tidbit? What they need more than anything right now is a 30,000-foot view of things.

Which is the absolute hardest thing in the world to do at a time like this. That’s the exquisite cruelty of this sport and the pressure that can creep into minds. One day you’re rolling along, then suddenly you’re slinging pitches to the backstop and grinding the bat to pieces in your hands.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 11 TB 2, HOU 1 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 12 TB 4, HOU 2 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 13 TB 5, HOU 2 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 14 HOU 4, TB 3 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 15 HOU 4, TB 3 Watch
Gm 6 Oct. 16 HOU 7, TB 4 Watch
Gm 7 Oct. 17 TB 4, HOU 2 Watch

This American League Championship Series still doesn’t belong to the Astros, no matter how many times Carlos Correa calls his shot, then spurs a wild celebration with a walk-off home run.

That’s what Correa did in Game 5 on Thursday as Houston won a second consecutive elimination game at Petco Park, this one, 4-3. Afterward, the teams offered a stunning contrast in moods.

Astros manager Dusty Baker could have passed for the happiest man on earth as he gushed and gushed about his club. He has his two best starting pitchers, Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers Jr., lined up for Game 6 and a potential Game 7 on Saturday.

“Boy, that was as big a game as I've ever been involved in,” Baker said. “You know? And that's one of the reasons why I came back. Boy, that was sweet. That was sweet as it gets.”

Baker said things like that again and again, finally ending a postgame news conference to say, “I’ve got to go be with my team.”

Correa had told his manager he was going to walk it off as he headed to home plate in the bottom of the ninth with the game tied at 3. In the celebration that followed, he embraced Baker and said, “I told you!”

When the opposing manager is asked if he’ll hold a team meeting before the next game, things have taken an unexpected turn. For the record, the Astros did just that before winning Game 4 on Wednesday to keep their season alive.

“Tough loss. Great ballgame,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We’ve got to turn it around. We’re playing good baseball against a very good team. It’s a lot of back and forth. Very confident that we’ll be ready to go.”

Choi's homer jolts TB: 'We always bounce back'

The Rays lead the best-of-seven series, 3-2, and have two chances to wrap up their first AL championship in 12 years beginning with Game 6 on Friday. They’ve got two of their top three starters -- Blake Snell and Charlie Morton -- lined up to pitch Games 6 and 7.

If someone had presented Tampa Bay with this scenario back on Opening Day, the Rays would have signed up in a heartbeat. Besides, they never expected the Astros to roll over. Houston is too good, too confident and too accomplished for that.

Only thing is, what once seemed so inevitable for Tampa Bay now looks like, well, a bit more of a challenge. Meanwhile, some of the Astros watched a documentary on the 2004 Red Sox, the only team to win a series after trailing 3-0. Perhaps the most notable quote in that doc was from Boston first baseman Kevin Millar before Game 4.

“Don’t let us win this one,” Millar kept saying to anyone who’d listen. “If we win this, everything changes.”

Houston may feel the same after winning Games 4 and 5 to give Tampa Bay something to think about.

“We’re gonna fight hard, and we're gonna keep fighting to the end,” Astros outfielder/designated hitter Michael Brantley said. “This is a special team. We're never going to give up. I think it's really easy to say, but we believe that we're going to go down fighting.”

The Astros are the 39th team to fall behind 3-0 in a best-of-seven series, but they are just the fourth to force a Game 6. But the mere fact that the 2004 Red Sox have found their way into this conversation speaks volumes about what has happened to this ALCS.

If the Rays do not win the ALCS, Game 5 will haunt them. Houston was out of pitching and opened the game with 6 2/3 innings from five rookie arms. That those arms limited Tampa Bay to two runs set the stage for everything that followed.

“This team is pretty resilient,” Astros closer Ryan Pressly said. “And we show that day in, day out. You push our backs up against the wall, we're gonna fight you.”

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.