The Astros kept their season alive by defeating the Yankees, 7-1, in Game 6 on Friday in front of a rowdy crowd of 43,179 at Minute Maid Park. For the Game 7 winner, it's a trip to the Fall Classic. For the loser, a long offseason and a missed opportunity.
"When you're in the backyard and you pick your favorite player, you imagine this," Astros catcher Brian McCann said. "My older brother and I did this every day."
That sums it up perfectly. To play in a Game 7 is an opportunity to be cherished. So let's give thanks for only the 54th in history.
"I've seen a lot of 'em on TV," Houston center fielder George Springer said. "It always looks like it's a lot of fun. It's great to have it at our park."
As for the pitching, it's veteran lefty CC Sabathia for the Yankees, right-hander Charlie Morton for the Astros. This is a rematch of Monday's Game 3 at Yankee Stadium when Sabathia pitched very well, Morton struggled and the Yanks won, 8-1.
But those are just the starters. Both managers said virtually their entire pitching staff will be available as both clubs shoot for a chance to play the National League champion Dodgers.
Hinch said playing Game 7 at home was why Houston worked so hard to get to 101 victories long after it had the AL West virtually sewn up.
"We felt confident coming back for Game 6," Hinch said. "This is a difficult team across the way. We're also a difficult team to close out."
Astros right-hander Justin Verlander pitched seven shutout innings in a second straight spectacular ALCS start. Batting champ Jose Altuve drove in three runs. Springer made a big-time catch in left-center, Marwin Gonzalez made a tough one in left.
And with that, the Astros believed they've restored some normalcy to a season that seemed to be slipping away after returning home trailing the series, 3-2.
From the moment Game 5 ended Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, the Astros thought there might be a reset of sorts Friday when they'd have their crowd behind them and their ace on the mound.
"I think we just played our game," third baseman Alex Bregman said. "We weren't playing tight. We weren't playing not to lose."
Home teams are 29-24 in decisive Game 7s, including 10-5 in LCS Game 7s. But home teams have lost two straight Game 7s -- in the 2016 World Series (Cubs over Indians) and '14 World Series (Giants over Royals).
The Astros and Yankees both last played a Game 7 in 2004, when New York lost to Boston in the ALCS and Houston lost to St. Louis in the NLCS.
All of which means nothing for these two teams with young players throughout the roster and a confidence that they can write whatever ending they'd like to write to this season.
"I'm excited," Yanks rookie right fielder Aaron Judge said. "What an opportunity. We wouldn't want it any other way. We've just got to go out there, like I said before, try to win every pitch and try to jump on them early."
The Yankees are nothing if not resilient. They rallied to beat the Indians after losing the first two games and now are trying to do the same against the Astros.
"It's going to be crazy, it's going to be mayhem," Yanks third baseman Todd Frazier said. "The crowd was great again here. It might be tough sleeping tonight. It's one of those things where we've been there before, we know what we're capable and what needs to be done."