The Houston Astros’ unlikely quest for redemption took a dramatic turn on Friday night, as they defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 7-4 in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series to force the contest to a decider.
With the win in Game 6, the Astros are only the second team in MLB history to ever force a series to Game 7 after trailing 3-0 and they have set up a winner-takes-all scenario against the Rays for the second consecutive postseason after beating Tampa Bay in Game 5 of the American League Division Series last year.
More importantly, it puts Houston one win away from a second consecutive appearance in the World Series.
“We are relentless, and when we said we didn’t want to go home, we really meant it,” Astros shortstop Carlos Correa told ESPN. “But if we don’t win one more then this all has meant nothing. When we were down three games the atmosphere in the clubhouse was the same as if we were up 3-0.”
For those who consider the Astros among the biggest cheaters baseball has ever seen, the prospect of Houston waltzing into the World Series for the third time in four seasons on the back of an incredible comeback is a nightmare scenario.
The legitimacy of the Astros’ three AL pennants in the last four years was thrown into question last November, since a report published by The Athleticrevealed the Astros had illegally used technology to decipher their opponents’ signs during the 2017 season and during part of the following campaign.
The signs were then relayed to Houston batters in real time by banging on a garbage can.
In a nine-page report published in January, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred indicated the scheme to steal signs was “player-driven.” However, Astros players escaped punishment, while general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were suspended for the 2020 season.
The pair was subsequently fired by team owner Jim Crane, while the Astros were also fined a record $5 million and lost their first and second round picks in the 2020 and 2021 draft.
The lack of fans due to the coronavirus pandemic meant the Astros escaped the some of the venom they would have encountered during a normal campaign, but even without being regularly booed the shortened regular season was hardly a walk in the park for the team.
Houston dealt with a host of injuries to key players and squeezed into the playoffs despite finishing the shortened regular season two below .500. They then lost star pitcher Justin Verlander for the remainder of this season and the whole of the next to an arm injury that required Tommy John surgery.
They lost Game 2 and Game 3 against the Rays after a series of uncharacteristic mistakes from Jose Altuve, one their stars and most reliable performers.
And yet, undeterred by all of the above, the Astros have simply refused to go away.
“We’re not through writing history,” Astros manager Dusty Baker was quoted as saying by The Athletic after Game 6.
“I’m hopeful that we can have a happy ending to this historic season—and historic year. I mean, it’s not all this season. This is a heck of a year. There have been a lot of famous deaths. There’s been the coronavirus. Living in the bubble. There’s been all kinds of stuff. And so this team has battled back big-time. And you’ve gotta love this team. Or some people hate this team. But I mean, you’ve at least gotta respect this team.”
There are signs that, albeit begrudgingly, some may slowly begin to share Baker’s stance.
“The way the Houston Astros are playing right now makes their cheating scandal even more frustrating because we know they didn’t need to,” FOX Sports MLB analyst Nick Swisher said on Friday night, just a few days after suggesting the mistakes that cost Houston Game 3 were a case of “karma catching up with the Astros”.
Along with the Astros, the Boston Red Sox are the only team in MLB history to force a series to Game 7 after trailing 3-0. Boston famously came back to defeat the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS en route to winning the World Series for the first time since 1918 and break the Curse of the Bambino.
The Red Sox, of course, were involved in a sign stealing scandal of their own and in April were stripped of their second-round draft pick after an MLB investigation found they used video replays to steal signs from catchers during the 2018 season.
This Astros season is the kind of script Hollywood writers would be proud of, but one where the happy ending may leave the vast majority of the audience disappointed.
Carlos Correa #1 of the Houston Astros celebrates a 7-4 win against the Tampa Bay Rays with teammates Michael Brantley #23 and Martin Maldonado #15 in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series at PETCO Park on October 16 in San Diego, California. The Astros have forced the ALCS to Game 7 after trailing 3-0 earlier in the series.