NEW YORK -- Now it's back to a place where the Astros are most comfortable. To their own ballpark. To their own roaring crowd.Perhaps most important, to a confident starting pitcher, right-hander Justin Verlander, who is capable of turning this thing back in another direction.Cue the confident manager.• Dress for
NEW YORK -- Now it's back to a place where the Astros are most comfortable. To their own ballpark. To their own roaring crowd.
Perhaps most important, to a confident starting pitcher, right-hander Justin Verlander, who is capable of turning this thing back in another direction.
Cue the confident manager.
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"This series isn't over," Houston skipper A.J. Hinch said following Wednesday night's 5-0 loss in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World. "This game is. We're going to get back to Houston and get to an off-day with our families and come back ready to play."
Hinch did not speak those words defiantly. Rather, he spoke as someone who knows his team better than anyone.
This has been an amazingly fun baseball season in Houston thanks to a team that won 101 regular-season games, and Hinch believes there's more to come.
But there's no more wiggle room after the Astros were pushed to the brink on Wednesday.
After the Astros won both games at Minute Maid Park last weekend, the Yankees answered by winning all three at their home ballpark to take a 3-2 series lead and move to within one victory of their 41st AL pennant.
Game 6 will be tonight in Houston, where the Astros have won 15 of their past 17, including all four postseason games. That's their home.
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"Yankee Stadium was rocking these three games," Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel said, "but it's going to be rocking on Friday for us."
And that's it.
If the Astros win tonight, there'll be a deciding Game 7 on Saturday. For Houston, things are simple: Just get the series to Game 7.
To play that Game 7, to have the Astros and Yanks throw everything they have onto the field, will be an experience both teams are likely to remember for the rest of their lives.
First things first. Before the playoffs began, Keuchel told his young teammates this about postseason baseball at Minute Maid Park:
"Be ready. You think you know what it'll sound like. You don't. It's going to sound like 90,000 people."
That's the hope the Astros have after three games in which they scored five runs and batted .120. That's the part that shocked them.
After leading the Majors in runs during the regular season and batting .333 against Boston in the AL Division Series sponsored by Doosan, Houston simply did not think its offense could be shut down this way.
The Astros are quick to point out that the Yankees made a number of tough pitches and that the slump is at least as much about what the Yanks did as what they didn't do.
But there were also times that Houston swung at pitches outside the zone. That's part of what coping with postseason pressure is all about.
Hinch's game plan is to give his guys a complete day off on Thursday for a physical break and an emotional reset.
Then it's on to Game 6.
"I know our fans are loud, and we're going to come out there rocking the dome," outfielder Josh Reddick said, "and we've got to do what we can do and get them involved and get them up early.
"We've got to keep them loud and give them something to cheer on early so they can do it all game."
For a team that rolled up a double-digit lead in the AL West in the first two months of the season, an elimination game will be a different kind of experience.
On the other hand, the Astros handled plenty of pressure in getting past the Red Sox and then in beating the Yankees in Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS.
"I expect us to come out ready to play, hand the ball to JV, and we'll see what happens," outfielder George Springer said.
Springer also said the day off would be especially helpful.
"Slowing things down a little bit," he said. "Having a little bit of a mental break will help us all. This has been a hard-fought five games, and that's a good team over there. Any day off at this point will help."
But as Keuchel said, the Astros are being reminded how important 101 regular-season victories were and the opportunity they've been presented for Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS.
"We put ourselves in good position during the regular season to get home-field advantage," Keuchel said. "We did what we had to do the first two games. They did what they had to do the middle games. Now we're looking to get back to Houston and regroup and do our jobs."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.