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Astros' epic comeback bid falls short in G7

@brianmctaggart
October 18, 2020

The year started with players around the league questioning the validity of the Astros’ 2017 World Series title in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that rocked the sport in January, and it continued through a litany of devastating injuries as Houston stumbled into the playoffs with a sub.-500 record.

The year started with players around the league questioning the validity of the Astros’ 2017 World Series title in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that rocked the sport in January, and it continued through a litany of devastating injuries as Houston stumbled into the playoffs with a sub.-500 record.

If ever a team felt it had something to prove, it was this year’s Astros. Considered an afterthought when the playoffs started, the Astros came within one win of reaching their third World Series in four years before running out of magic in a 4-2 loss to the Rays in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night at Petco Park.

Box score

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

You can dislike the Astros all you want, but they showed in 2020 that they still have as much talent and moxy as ever and appear primed to contend again next season.

“I’m extremely proud of this team for fighting every single day, battling every pitch and going out there and playing hard and playing for one another,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “But like I said before, our goal is always to win the last game of the season, so it’s time to work extremely hard in the offseason and get better.”

The Rays advanced to their first World Series since 2008, while the Astros were left to rummage through the disappointment of coming up short in the ALCS despite becoming just the second team in MLB history to even a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games. In all four losses to the Rays, the Astros had the tying run or go-ahead run at the plate in the ninth inning, including Game 7.

Anatomy of Astros' (near) miracle comeback

But when Aledmys Díaz flied out to right field, one of the most tumultuous seasons -- and in a lot of ways, most gratifying seasons -- in Astros history came to an end.

“It sucks, man,” said Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr., who gave up homers to ALCS Most Valuable Player Randy Arozarena and Mike Zunino in 3 2/3 innings. “It really does. But congrats to the Rays. They’re a damn good team. They’ve been the best team in the AL all season. They went through the Yankees and they went through us. You have to tip your cap to them, as well. It sucks because it just feels like we were right there.”

Even when no one thought they would be. After losing 2019 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, 2019 AL Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez and closer Roberto Osuna -- and a host of pitchers -- to injuries, the Astros made the expanded playoffs at 29-31. But a team that won 107 games the year before suddenly came alive.

The Astros swept the AL Central champion Twins in the Wild Card Series and dominated the West champion A’s by scoring 33 runs in four games in the Division Series. Against the top-seeded Rays, in an empty ballpark in San Diego, Houston dropped the first three games of the ALCS.

Saying they weren’t ready to go home, the Astros regained their swagger and stormed back. They got a huge two-run homer from George Springer in Game 4, a dramatic walk-off homer from Carlos Correa in Game 5 and a strong outing by starter Framber Valdez in Game 6 to even the series.

Astros don't go down without a fight

“We didn’t fold,” said Correa, who drove in 17 runs in the playoffs, including both in Game 7. “We kept battling. We got to the playoffs and no one gave us a chance in Minnesota. We won three games against Oakland. They beat us in the regular season, and we came up huge and won that series. Down, 0-3, everybody was talking about the Astros getting swept and this and that. We came back and forced Game 7. It wasn’t the finale we wanted, but I’m just proud of this team, man. It’s been unbelievable.”

The ending, though, was a familiar one for the Astros, who watched Rays starter Charlie Morton -- who won two Game 7s for Houston in 2017 -- hold them scoreless for 5 2/3 dominating innings Saturday. The Astros trailed, 4-0, in the eighth before Correa’s two-run single cut the Rays’ lead in half, but reliever Pete Fairbanks struck out Bregman to end the inning and strand a pair.

“I mean, this is painful when you’re one game away from going to the World Series,” manager Dusty Baker said.

Despite 'painful' loss, Baker proud of Astros

To those on the outside, the common narrative was that the Astros were using the animosity against them as fuel for the playoffs. If that was true, the players wouldn’t admit it publicly. Springer said Saturday they simply wanted to stay in their own dugout. McCullers perhaps summed it up the best.

“We weren’t on a revenge tour,” he said. “That’s not what this was. This was a bunch of guys coming together and just wanting to play damn good baseball, and wanted to go out and win another World Series. That’s, at the end of the day, what it was. We fell short of our goal, but a lot of growth, a lot of impressive members on this team stepped up.”

The Astros may have a different feel next year. Three of their core players -- Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick -- are free agents, and one or all of them might not be back. Perhaps that’s what stung the most about Saturday’s Game 7 loss, knowing some faces will leave next year. The Astros’ juggernaut, however, will roll on.

Will Astros try to re-sign Springer, Brantley?

“I’m going home and I’ll remember this team forever, and I’m very proud of everything we accomplished,” Correa said.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.