HOUSTON -- A change of scenery, a much-needed day off and the looming presence of pitcher Justin Verlander have Astros manager A.J. Hinch feeling confident about his team's chances heading into tonight's must-win Game 6 of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park.After the Astros won the first
HOUSTON -- A change of scenery, a much-needed day off and the looming presence of pitcher Justin Verlander have Astros manager A.J. Hinch feeling confident about his team's chances heading into tonight's must-win Game 6 of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park.
After the Astros won the first two games in Houston by identical 2-1 scores, the Yankees took the next three games at rowdy Yankee Stadium to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven ALCS presented by Camping World. Houston will hang its season on Verlander, who's 8-0 in eight appearances (seven starts) in an Astros uniform.
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"Those games [in New York] are behind us, so there's no real reason to look back now," Hinch said. "They're in the books. All we really need to focus on is the game at hand. Our guys are good at that. I think we have to deal with a lot this time of year, obviously. … We've said from the beginning it's a seven-game series."
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Hinch's confidence in Game 6 not only stems from having Verlander on the mound, but also a return home to Minute Maid Park, where the Astros have won 15 of their last 17 games, including a 4-0 record in the playoffs.
The team announced Thursday the retractable roof of Minute Maid Park is scheduled to be closed for both Game 6 and potential Game 7 due to impending rain.
"We earned that home field," Hinch said. "We had 101 wins for a reason. We don't automatically flush those down the toilet because we lost a couple of games in New York. We want our crowd to be loud. We want to take the lead that makes the crowd louder. There will be a big moment, whether it's [Jose] Altuve or [Carlos] Correa or [George] Springer comes up with a big hit and this place will explode. And that's why we're going to play at home, because we earned it."
Regardless of who's on the mound or the energy of the crowd, the Astros must wake up their bats. They've been outscored, 21-9, in the series and are hitting .147 as a team with one home run and eight RBIs.
"This is obviously the biggest game for the Astros up to this point for this season," Verlander said. "The expectations are there. My teammates, I'm sure, are expecting a lot of me. And I expect a lot of myself. This is why we play the game. And I love these opportunities to pitch in these atmospheres, this type of game. It should be a lot of fun."
"We've put a lot of energy and effort into the year, and you feel like it's right there for you to take it," Hinch said. "And when the guy in front of you is struggling you want to be the guy. If you struggle, the guy behind you wants to help. If you look at our lineup, the Yankees have done a good job of neutralizing our lineup. They were trying to pick up not just their own baggage, but maybe the guy in front of them, maybe the guy in back of them, too."
Ultimately, Hinch said the Astros must take a breath and relax. He hopes Thursday's off-day and venue change helps the Astros as much as Sunday's off-day helped the Yankees rebound from a pair of tough losses to start the series.
"We've got nine or more innings tomorrow to win a game to get to the next game," he said. "There's not much more to really deal with other than get to the game tomorrow."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.