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Astros can find hope in the heartbreak of 2004

Club in same position as Cards, who won Games 6, 7 at home to oust Houston in NLCS
MLB.com @RichardJustice

HOUSTON -- Jeff Kent made his joyous romp around the bases as some of the loudest and wildest cheers this city has ever known rocked Minute Maid Park to its steel and brick bones. As he headed down the third-base line and skipped toward a mob of happy teammates, he screamed two words over and over.

"One more! One more! One more!"

HOUSTON -- Jeff Kent made his joyous romp around the bases as some of the loudest and wildest cheers this city has ever known rocked Minute Maid Park to its steel and brick bones. As he headed down the third-base line and skipped toward a mob of happy teammates, he screamed two words over and over.

"One more! One more! One more!"

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Thirteen years later, what happened to the 2004 Astros after Kent's walk-off home run in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series still stings the people who played for and care about the club.

Dress for the ALCS: Get Astros postseason gear

Kent had given the Astros a 3-2 series lead, and after a regular season in which they won 36 of 46 down the stretch and defeated the Braves in the NL Division Series, their first World Series seemed real enough to touch and feel.

All the Astros needed to do was win Game 6 or 7 in St. Louis. Simple, right? No one at the ballpark in Houston that night on Oct. 18, 2004, for Kent's moment could have imagined their team would be unable to write such an ending.

The Astros went to St. Louis and lost twice, then watched from the visitor's dugout at Busch Stadium as the Cardinals celebrated a trip to the World Series. There are tough losses, and then there are those that linger.

"You don't get too many chances like that," Hall of Famer Craig Biggio said.

If the 2017 Astros need inspiration, this might be it. Rather than being the team trying to finish off a series, the Astros are attempting to keep their season alive just as the Cardinals were trying to do when they returned to St. Louis in 2004.

The Astros trail the Yankees 3-2 and are a game from elimination as the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World returns to Minute Maid Park for Game 6 tonight.

Video: NLCS Gm 5: Kent wins it with a walk-off homer

Actually, there are many examples of teams who have done what the Astros are trying to do, but none of them hits as close to home as what happened in 2004.

Right-hander Justin Verlander, who threw a 124-pitch complete game in a 2-1 victory in Game 2, gets the ball again and will try to force a deciding Game 7.

The Astros acquired him for a moment just like this one, and they've won all eight of his starts since he was acquired on Aug. 31. Even with the Astros struggling to score runs -- they're hitting .147 in the series -- Verlander managed to eke out a win.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch gave his guys a day off Thursday, hoping for both a physical and emotional reset after three losses at Yankee Stadium that transformed a 2-0 series lead into a deficit.

Veterans Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran called a brief team meeting after Wednesday's 5-0 loss in Game 5 at Yankee Stadium. Their message: Stay the course, have fun, try not to press.

"Now we've got to show why we were one of the best teams in the league this season," shortstop Carlos Correa said. "We obviously feel really good when we've got J.V. on the mound."

Video: NYY@HOU Gm6: Verlander on the benefit of experience

After winning 101 regular-season games and then getting past the Red Sox in the American League Division Series presented by Doosan, the Astros are playing a potential elimination game.

Part of what has made them special is their youth, energy and resilience. But there were times in New York when they chased pitches out of the strike zone and threw very hittable pitches.

Since 1985, teams with a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series have gone on to win 37 of 55 times. But when teams trail a series 3-2 and have Games 6 and 7 at home, the split is almost 50-50 at 13-14.

Video: ALCS Gm6: Hinch on the impact of home-field advantage

In the past 16 seasons, since 2001, teams have rallied from 3-2 series deficits nine times to advance, and some of them did it on the road.

Last fall, the Cubs went to Cleveland and won Games 6 and 7 of the World Series to end a 108-year championship drought. In 2012, the Giants did just what the Astros are trying to do.

They returned to AT&T Park to win NLCS Games 6 and 7 against the Cardinals on their way to their second championship in three years. Also on this list of teams rallying from 3-2 deficits: the 2004 and '07 Red Sox, '03 Marlins, '02 Angels and '01 Diamondbacks.

Those Diamondbacks had suffered three straight one-run losses -- two of them late-inning soul-crushers -- at Yankee Stadium when they returned to Phoenix and rallied as Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling carried the team to a World Series win.

That's what the Astros hope Verlander can begin to do on Friday. To even get to a deciding Game 7 -- when crazy things often happen -- would be a huge first step. And the Astros hope it's not the last.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

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