2020 American League Championship Series

From BR Bullpen

2020 American League Championship Series
Tampa Bay Rays logo
2020 American League Championship Series logo
Houston Astros logo
Tampa Bay Rays
40 - 20 in the AL
4 - 3
Series Summary
Houston Astros
29 - 31 in the AL


The Teams[edit]




Series results[edit]

Game Score Date Starters Time (ET)
1 Houston Astros 1 Tampa Bay Rays 2 October 11 Framber Valdez (0-1) Blake Snell (1-0) 7:30 pm
2 Houston Astros 2 Tampa Bay Rays 4 October 12 Lance McCullers (0-1) Charlie Morton (1-0) 4:00 pm
3 Tampa Bay Rays 5 Houston Astros 2 October 13 Ryan Yarbrough (1-0) Jose Urquidy (0-1) 8:40 pm
4 Tampa Bay Rays 3 Houston Astros 4 October 14 Tyler Glasnow (0-1) Zack Greinke (1-0) 8:40 pm
5 Tampa Bay Rays 3 Houston Astros 4 October 15 John Curtiss (0-0) Luis Garcia (0-0) 5:00 pm
6 Houston Astros 7 Tampa Bay Rays 4 October 16 Framber Valdez (1-1) Blake Snell (1-1) 6:00 pm
7 Houston Astros 2 Tampa Bay Rays 4 October 17 Lance McCullers (0-2) Charlie Morton (2-0) 8:30 pm


Game 1 @ Petco Park[edit]

Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Astros 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 9 1
Rays 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 x 2 6 0
WP: Blake Snell (1-0); LP: Framber Valdez (0-1); SV: Diego Castillo (1)
Home Runs: HOU - Jose Altuve (1); TB - Randy Arozarena (1)
  • Attendance: none

Game 1 was dominated by pitching, with Framber Valdez for Houston facing off against Blake Snell for Tampa Bay. Given the Rays had just punched their ticket into the Series two days earlier, their bullpen had been taxed, so they were hoping to get five innings from Snell but couldn't expect much more from him either as he was pitching on short rest. Kevin Cash was walking a tightrope. Dusty Baker did not have such a problem, as Valdez was well rested.

The Astros got off to a great start as just two batters into the game, Jose Altuve hit a homer to left center, giving them a 1-0 lead. Snell did not have his best stuff in that inning, as he also allowed a single to Michael Brantley, who stole second base, and then expended a lot of pitches but limited the damage to that one run. There were no such problems for Valdez, who struck out the side, with just two pitches outside the strike zone. Snell found his groove in the 2nd however, making quick work of the three batters he faced, and while Yandy Diaz drew a lead-off walk off Valdez in the 2nd, he was erased in an inning-ending double play. The Astros got a couple of hits in the 3rd, but Snell was helped by picking off George Springer as he was breaking off to steal second. The Rays then made their own baserunning mistake, as Kevin Kiermaier hit a one-out double, the Rays' first hit of the game, but was thrown out attempting to steal third base.

The Rays scored all the runs they needed in the next two innings. Snell struggled again in the top of the 4th as he put the first two batters on base with a single and a walk, but Kyle Tucker lined out to 2B Brandon Lowe, who stepped on second base to double off the lead runner. Snell then walked Yuli Gurriel, who had done very little with the bat since the postseason started, and allowed a single to Aledmys Diaz that went in and out of his glove to load the bases, but he got Martin Maldonado to fly out to right to escape a very serious threat. Valdez had faced the minimum number of batters through three innings, thanks to the double play ball and the caught stealing, and he retired the first batter of the 4th, Mike Brosseau, as well, but Randy Arozarena then hit his fourth homer of the postseason on a line drive to center field, and the score was tied. Lowe followed with a single that traveled maybe 20 feet - but any hit will do when a batter is in as deep slump as Lowe - but Valdez then struck out the next two men to keep the score at 1. With his pitch count climbing, Snell returned to pitch the 5th, but he retired the Astros in order and was able to give his manager the five innings he had needed. Valdez then made what turned out to be a big mistake when he walked the first batter in the bottom of the 5th, Willie Adames. Manuel Margot followed with a grounder that was the equivalent of a sacrifice bunt, advancing him to second, as did Kiermaier. Adames was now on third base with two outs, but at bat was C Mike Zunino, who was in the game for his receiving skills and whose few contributions with the bat were the occasional extra-base hit among a slew of strikeouts (during the season, he had hit .147 with only 3 of his 11 hits being singles, while striking out 37 times). He went against type however: just a single was needed, and he deposited a ball into center field in front of Springer, allowing Adames to score the go-ahead run.

John Curtiss came on to pitch in the 6th and while he did not deliver a clean inning, allowing a single and a walk, the Astros did not hit any ball hard and he escaped without giving up a run. Valdez returned for the bottom of the inning. He gave up a couple of walks, but he did not give up any runs either, ending what was a good night's work even if he would eventually be charged with the loss. In the 7th, Ryan Thompson, who had started Game 4 of the Division Series as an opener, came on to pitch and made quick work of the Astros, retiring them in order. Blake Taylor, the Astros' first reliever, was not as efficient as he allowed a lead-off double to Kiermaier, his second of the night, then after striking out Zunino, hit Brosseau in the left shoulder with a pitch. He gave way to Enoli Paredes who struck out Arozarena and Lowe to end the threat. Aaron Loup was summoned for the 8th, as Cash continued to dip into his second-tier relievers, and it was a struggle. He hit the first batter he faced, Michael Brantley, with a pitch, but struck out Alex Bregman. Facing Carlos Correa, he threw a wild pitch, then walked Correa. He had now faced the mandatory three batters, but with a lefty coming up in Kyle Tucker, Cash decided to leave him in, and he gave up a single that loaded the bases as the Astros held Brantley at third base. This was now officially a major jam, and there was no playing around anymore. Cash called in one of his top bullpen arms, Diego Castillo and it took him all of one pitch to end the inning, getting Gurriel to hit a ground ball through the mound, straight at Lowe who stepped on second and threw to first base to easily beat the batter. The Astros had wasted what was their best chance to tie the game.

The Rays put a couple of men on base against Brooks Raley in the bottom of the 8th but were unable to pad their lead. This included a long at-bat by Margot who hit a couple of long foul balls down the third base line and a couple more down the first base line, before eventually drawing a walk. Castillo came back to close the came, like he had done in the Division Series' clinching game. He got Aledmys Diaz to line out for the first out. Josh Reddick pinch-hit for Maldonado and hit a single, then was replaced by pinch-runner Myles Straw, representing the tying run with the top of the batting order coming up. However, Springer hit a soft grounder to 1B Brosseau for the second out, then Altuve struck out swinging and the Rays had won the first game.

Game 2 @ Petco Park[edit]

Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Astros 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 2 10 2
Rays 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 x 4 4 0
WP: Charlie Morton (1-0); LP: Lance McCullers (0-1); SV: Nick Anderson (1)
Home Runs: TB - Manuel Margot (1), Mike Zunino (1); HOU - Carlos Correa (1)
  • Attendance: none

Tampa Bay won Game 2 thanks to its ability to take advantage of the Astros' early mistakes, and to a star turn by Manuel Margot who hit a key three-run homer and made a fantastic catch in right field. They were also helped by the Astros' inability to come up with a big hit with runners on base, as they had plenty of the latter, but none of the former. On the mound, Charlie Morton, a former Astro, started for Tampa Bay, while Lance McCullers, who had grow up in the Tampa area, started for Houston. McCullers pitched better than Morton, but it was Morton who got the win, and McCullers the loss.

The game was practically decided in the 1st inning. The Astros put a couple of men on base against Morton, as they would in almost all of his five innings, but were unable to get the hit needed to cash them in, as Alex Bregman lined out to shortstop and Kyle Tucker struck out with a runner in scoring position. In the bottom of the inning, things looked easy for McCullers as he got two quick outs before Randy Arozarena showed he was still the hottest hitter on earth at this moment by getting a single. McCullers would have gone out of the inning with nothing more, but 2B Jose Altuve made a routine play on a grounder by Ji-Man Choi, and then inexplicably threw the ball with a bad bounce to first. Choi was just jogging out the grounder, but he made it safely as the throw pulled 1B Yuli Gurriel off the bag, and he couldn't pick it up in time to retire the Rays' big first baseman. The error brought Margot to the plate, and he homered to center field, a three-run shot, already his third of the postseason after hitting just one long ball during the season.

Margot's second big play came in the 2nd inning when once again Morton let two men reach base. In fact, he was lucky because Martin Maldonado's drive to left field bounced into the stands for an automatic double, forcing Gurriel to stop at third; had the ball stayed inside the park, Gurriel would likely have scored. Next up was George Springer, and he hit a ball foul down the right field line, but Margot made a tremendous leaping catch, tumbling over the sidewall marking the limit of balls in play, and holding on it as he fell upside down 10 feet or so down the other side of the wall. He could have been badly hurt, but apparently only suffered a couple of scrapes. That catch ended the inning, and it took a while for the Astros to get over it. Meanwhile, McCullers pitched extremely well and basically gave nothing to the Rays until the bottom of the 7th. In contrast, the Astros had no lack of men on base: one in the 3rd and two in the 4th before Morton finally gave his team a 1-2-3 inning in the 5th just as he was reaching his pitch count limit. But that still left four innings to play, with only a 3-0 lead for Tampa. That was cut to two runs in the 6th when Carlos Correa hit a solo homer against Pete Fairbanks, but Fairbanks gave up nothing else in his two innings, even striking out the side in the 7th - thanks in part to some very strong shadows that really made it hard on the batters at that point of the afternoon.

With two outs in the bottom of the 7th, after McCullers had given up basically nothing since Margot's homer in the 1st, he was surprised when Mike Zunino hit another homer with two outs, giving the Rays a three-run lead again. In the 8th, Kevin Cash brought back Aaron Loup, who had been shaky the night before, but this time he did well, getting the first two outs before Tucker singled. Closer Nick Anderson replaced him and got the third out. However, in the 9th, Anderson gave up back-to-back singles to Gurriel and Josh Reddick to start the inning. Dusty Baker sent Aledmys Diaz to pinch-hit for Maldonado. He hit another single, to shallow center, loading the bases. This was the golden opportunity the Astros had been looking for, but they managed to blow it again. The next batter, Springer, hit the first pitch straight at 2B Brandon Lowe, who started a very easy double play, the Rays gladly giving up a run for two outs. The Astros loaded the bases again when Anderson walked Altuve and Brantley, both on four pitches, but he then got Bregman to fly out to center field on his next pitch, ending the game.

Game 3 @ Petco Park[edit]

Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Rays 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 0 0 5 8 0
Astros 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 7 1
WP: Ryan Yarbrough (1-0); LP: Jose Urquidy (0-1); SV: Diego Castillo (2)
Home Runs: HOU - Jose Altuve (2), Michael Brantley (1)
  • Attendance: none

The Rays took a three games to none lead in the series with another win in Game 3, one big inning that took advantage of Astros' mistakes negating a pair of solo homers. On the mound, the Rays decided to give the third of their three aces, Tyler Glasnow an extra day's rest and started Ryan Yarbrough, one of their few pitchers who did not make his living by lighting up the radar gun, while the Astros countered with Jose Urquidy, a younster still but already a veteran of numerous postseason starts this year and last. As usual, Rays manager Kevin Cash shuffled his line-up a bit, using Austin Meadows at DH and as the lead-off hitter, Yandy Diaz at first base, and Michael Perez as the catcher. Dusty Baker made a couple of changes as well, using Aledmys Diaz, who had done well in his few opportunities thus far, as his DH, and giving Dustin Garneau a first start behind the plate.

The Astros struck first, when Jose Altuve hit his second homer of the series with one out in the bottom of the 1st, but otherwise the first few innings were characterized by both teams' inability to cash in runners - a running theme in the Astros' case. The Rays left the bases loaded in the 2nd; the Astros stranded a pair in the bottom of that same inning; the ever-hot Randy Arozarena hit a one-out double in the 3rd but could not advance further; and the Astros left two more in the 3rd. The two pitchers found their groove at that point though, as they combined to retire 13 straight batters from the end of the 3rd until the start of the 6th. That is when the game was decided. Arozarena led off that inning with a single and Brandon Lowe joined him on base when Altuve made a throwing error - already his third of the series for the usually reliable second baseman - when his throw to SS Carlos Correa was wild. With two men on and no one out, Baker called on Enoli Paredes to come in to pitch, but he gave up a single to Yandy Diaz to load the bases, after which Joey Wendle singled, driving in two runs and giving Tampa Bay its first lead of the game. Uncharacteristically, Manuel Margot was asked to bunt and he executed perfectly, his sacrifice advancing both runners to second and third base, but Paredes then hit Kevin Kiermaier with a pitch, loading the bases again, and then he hit Willie Adames as well, forcing in a run. Brooks Raley replaced him and Hunter Renfroe pinch-hit for Perez. He got the Rays' second clutch hit of the inning, a double to right, driving in two more runs for a 5-1 lead. There was still only one out, but Raley got Meadows to pop-up to the infield, wisely gave an intentional walk to Arozarena, and then struck out Lowe, the 11th batter of the frame, to finally end the inning.

The Rays now had all the runs they needed, but the Astros replied immediately, as Michael Brantley hit Yarbrough's first pitch after having sat down a good long while beyond the fence in left-center for a solo homer. Cash replaced Yarbrough with Peter Fairbanks at that point and the Rays went into shutdown mode. Fairbanks got three ground balls to end the inning, and in the 7th John Curtiss got a scoreless inning, with the help of Renfroe, who was now playing right field. With pinch-hitter Josh Reddick on base with a single, George Springer hit a ball destined to fall in the right center-field gap, but Renfroe made a diving catch to rob him of a sure base hit and likely RBI. The Rays were not doing much of anything with their at-bats when their turns came up, and in the 8th, the Astros tried again, with Altuve hitting a lead-off single off Curtiss. He gave way to Ryan Thompson and the side-armer gave up a single to Brantley to put a second runner on with no one out. He struck out Alex Bregman, but Correa hit an infield single to load the bases. The game was now on the line as Aaron Loup replaced Thompson, but he got Kyle Tucker to fly out to shallow right for out number two, and Yuli Gurriel to ground out to short, as once again Houston stranded a boatload of runners. Arozarena collected another hit in the 9th - he was hitting .500 with an OPS of 1.372 at this point - but he was stranded. Diego Castillo came out to close the game. He struck out Reddick, who had stayed in the game, but walked Abraham Toro, pinch-hitting for back-up catcher Martin Maldonado, and then Springer. Altuve came up representing the tying run, but he struck out swinging, and Brantley made it 10 runners left on base when he flew out to Margot in center field to end the game.

Game 4 @ Petco Park[edit]

Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Rays 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 3 7 0
Astros 1 0 2 0 5 0 0 0 x 4 9 0
WP: Zack Greinke (1-0); LP: Tyler Glasnow (0-1); SV: Ryan Pressly (1)
Home Runs: HOU - Jose Altuve (3), George Springer (1); TB - Randy Arozarena (2)
  • Attendance: none

Facing elimination in Game 4, the Astros bounced back with a solid performance from their starter, veteran Zack Greinke, who did not have his best stuff but kept the Rays' bats largely in check, even convincing his manager, Dusty Baker to leave him in to pitch out of a jam in the 6th, something going against all the tendencies of modern game management. His opponent, Tyler Glasnow, pushed back due to his start on short rest in the decisive Game 5 of the Division Series against the New York Yankees, also went relatively deep into the game in spite of giving up four runs, and for the first time this postseason, fans were treated to a game in which both starters completed six innings. The lack of rest days in this series had made it imperative not to abuse the bullpen, so both managers were pleased to finally get some length from their starter,

After Greinke retired the Rays in order in the top of the 1st, Jose Altuve did what he had done twice before this postseason, which is to ambush a pitcher with a 1st-inning homer. And once again, he took a ball high in the zone, at shoulder level, and pulled it into the left-field stands for a solo homer. Ironically, for this game, Dusty Baker had flipped his position in the batting order with that of Michael Brantley, and as a result, he did not come up with George Springer on base - Springer had led off the inning with a single - but with the bases empty as Brantley had hit into a double play. There was no scoring in the 2nd, and in the 3rd, the Rays had their first baserunner when Willy Adames drew a lead-off walk, but he was erased when the next batter, Yoshi Tsutsugo, grounded into a double play. Thus, even though his fastball was staying around 87-88 mph, Greinke had faced the minimum number of batters through three innings. The Astros then doubled their lead in the bottom of the inning when Martin Maldonado drew a one-out walk, advanced to second when Springer lined a ball off Glasnow's back but was still thrown out at first, Brantley walked, and Altuve doubled to right.

Austin Meadows finally collected the Rays' first hit with a one-out single in the 3rd, and the next batter was Randy Arozarena, whose legend was growing by leaps and bounds given his incredible performance since the start of the postseason. He added to it by jumping on a curve ball and pulling it into the left-field stands for a two-run homer, tying the game. The next score came in the bottom of the 5th, and once again it was the normally light-hitting Maldonado who got things started, this time with a one-out single. Springer was up next, and he absolutely crushed one of Glasnow's pitches, sending it to the top balcony of the Western Metal Supply Company building in deep left field for a two-run homer that did not leave any doubt from the moment it left his bat. At this point, in regular circumstances, this would have been it for Glasnow, but Kevin Cash decided to leave him in, knowing that even if the series went to the limit, he was not going to start again, but that any inning he did not need his bullpen to pitch was that much gained. So, like an ace pitcher of old, Glasnow stayed in the game, and he got five more outs before his day was done. Had this been a must-win game, it's likely that Cash would have managed otherwise, but he was looking at some of the longer-term implications of his decisions.

Baker faced a similar conundrum in the top of the 6th, after Manuel Margot and Meadows both singled with one out. He came out himself for a mound visit and everyone was convinced that was it for Greinke, but after the two discussed, the veteran was left in the game, and he got a second out by striking out Arozarena - albeit with an assist from first-base umpire Tim Timmons, who ruled that Arozarena had failed to check his swing on a 1-2 count, even though replays begged to disagree. Ji-Man Choi came up next, and he hit a ball against the defensive shift that SS Carlos Correa did well to keep from leaving the infield. He was credited with a single, but Correa's diving stop had saved a run, a change from the previous games when all the good defensive plays seemed to be turned by the Rays. Greinke then ended his gutsy performance by striking out Mike Brosseau by throwing a change-up in the dirt on a full count, on which the anxious Brosseau, doubtless expecting the fastball that 90% of pitchers would have thrown in such a tight situation, swung at harmlessly. Cristian Javier took over for Greinke in the 7th, and Jose Alvarado for Glasnow in the bottom of that inning, and both did their jobs, Javier reeling off two scoreless innings, and Alvarado one, after which Aaron Slegers added a scoreless bottom of the 8th. It was thus still 4-2 as Javier came on to start the 9th. He walked the first batter he faced, Choi, and was replaced by closer Ryan Pressly, who had first warmed up back in the 6th when Greinke had managed to extricate himself from his last jam. Brandon Lowe batted for Brosseau, but his slump continued as he struck out, then Joey Wendle forced out Choi. But with one out to go, the Rays were still pushing. Adames hit a double to left, and Wendle circled the bases to make it 4-3, with Adames, now representing the tying run, in scoring position. He then advanced a further 90 feet on a wild pitch, but Tsutsugo lined out to Springer, now playing right field after some earlier defensive substitutions, to end the game.

Game 5 @ Petco Park[edit]

Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Rays 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 0 3 7 1
Astros 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 4 6 0
WP: Ryan Pressly (1-0); LP: Nick Anderson (0-1)
Home Runs: HOU - George Springer (2), Carlos Correa (2); TB - Brandon Lowe (1), Randy Arozarena (3), Ji-Man Choi (1)
  • Attendance: none

The Astros once again staved off elimination in Game 5, but it took all they had, including using seven pitchers and a walk-off homer from Carlos Correa in the bottom of the 9th, to come out on top. In doing so, they became the first team ever to homer on the first and last pitch of a game in the postseason, as George Springer had started off the game with a long ball off Rays starter John Curtiss. Curtiss was used as an opener by the Rays, as was his opponent, rookie Luis Garcia, and both were gone by the start of the 3rd inning. The game was close until it was decided, but in a reversal of the previous games' pattern, it was the Rays who had trouble driving in baserunners - all of their runs came on solo homers - and the Astros who turned in some brilliant defensive plays at key times.

Pitching depth was always going to be a concern for the Astros, as their pitching staff was composed largely of rookies after the three or four veterans from their previous deep postseason runs, and it was something that Dusty Baker ran into when he had to plan for this game. He decided to give young Garcia the ball for the first time this postseason, and while Baker's pitcher usage was sometimes unpredictable, the anticipation was that he would not be allowed to face hitters twice, so a bullpen that had already been asked to do a lot would be tapped again. Garcia got off to a strong start, retiring the Rays in order in the top of the 1st, after which Curtiss took the mound. For the Rays, who had practically invented the concept, a bullpen game was par for the course, and Curtiss had been used as an opener a few times during the regular season. Kevin Cash had also refrained from using too many pitchers in any one game, so he had more options once Curtiss had gone through his one or two innings of work. What he did not expect was that Curtiss' very first pitch would be taken deep, as Springer took a page out of Jose Altuve's book to hit a 1st-inning homer, this one to deep left field, not quite as far up the façade of the Western Metals Supply Co. building as his Game 4 shot, but plenty deep enough. Curtiss then walked Altuve after one out, but with two outs, he picked him off first base to end the inning and settle things down. Garcia found the going a bit tougher in the 2nd, as he walked Ji-Man Choi and hit Joey Wendle with a pitch, then walked Willy Adames to load the bases. He got two strikes on Mike Zunino, but the big catcher then drove a pitch to the opposite field, and with everyone on the Astros holding their breath, Josh Reddick caught the ball at the warning track to end the inning. For his part, Curtiss struck out Correa on a foul tip, then gave way to "bulk man" Josh Fleming who recorded the next two outs.

Blake Taylor replaced Garcia to start the 3rd, but he was greeted by Brandon Lowe, inserted as the lead-off hitter in this game in an attempt to break him out of a postseason-long slump, who did just that by tagging a ball behind the center-field fence. Taylor then got two outs and Baker started a pattern of mid-inning pitching changes by calling on Enoli Paredes, a third straight rookie, to record the final out. Meanwhile, Fleming got in trouble in the bottom of the inning by allowing a single to Reddick and a double to Martin Maldonado before retiring anyone. He got Springer to hit a ball back to him and managed to hold the runners in place as he threw him out for the first out, but Michael Brantley followed with a single to right and both runners scored, including the lumbering Maldonado. Fleming then walked Altuve, but got out of the inning when Alex Bregman grounded into a double play started by 3B Wendle. The game continued with a definite pattern after that, with the Rays stranding a pair of runners in the 4th, with Zunino once again making the final out, and then the next inning, another solo homer being hit, this one by emerging superstar Randy Arozarena off Paredes. The Rays stranded two more runners that inning, with Andre Scrubb, rookie #4, coming in to bail out Paredes, and managing to escape thanks to a wonderful play by 3B Bregman, who fielded a soft grounder by Manuel Margot barehanded and managed to throw him out to end the inning. Fleming gave way to Aaron Slegers with one out in the bottom of the 5th and Zunino finally got a hit in the 6th, but it came with two outs and no one on, after which Brooks Raley replaced Scrubb to strike out Lowe for the final out. In the 7th, Josh James replaced Raley with two outs while Slegers kept the Astros from scoring by striking out Maldonado with two men on base to end the inning.

In the 8th, the Rays tied the game for the second time with their third solo homer of the contest, this one by Ji-Man Choi to lead off the inning. Margot followed with a single, but on another nice defensive play, James started a double play himself by fielding a comebacker from Wendle. Another mid-inning pitching change followed, with Baker using his last bullet, closer Ryan Pressly, with the score tied and four outs - at least - to go. Pressly struck out Adames to end the inning, but Baker was now walking a tightrope. Cash also used one of his top bullpen arms at this point, calling on Nick Anderson, who retired the Rays in order. In the 9th, Zunino led off with a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Kevin Kiermaier, out of the starting line-up after taking a pitch from Paredes off his hand two days earlier, but still able to run. Pressly struck out Lowe, but while facing Arozarena, he threw a wild pitch, moving Kiermaier to second base, before getting the batter to hit a fly ball to shallow right for the second out. Baker made a mound visit at that point, and for one of the rare times since the rule limiting their number had been introduced a couple of years earlier, the scoreboard showed that the Astros had exhausted their supply. Pressly stayed in the game to face Austin Meadows and got him to fly to center to end the inning. With the score tied heading into the bottom of the 9th, Baker had his scheduled starter if a Game 5 was needed, Framber Valdez, begin to warm up in the bullpen in case there were extra innings, a sign that he was now forced to burn down the furniture to keep the house warm. Bregman popped up to right field, where Lowe, moved there as part of a defensive shift featuring a four-man outfield, made a routine catch for the first out. But on a 1-1 count, Correa ended the game by driving one of Anderson's pitches to center field for a walk-off homer, extending Houston's life at least one more day.

Game 6 @ Petco Park[edit]

Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Astros 0 0 0 0 4 1 2 0 0 7 11 0
Rays 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 2 0 4 6 0
WP: Framber Valdez (1-1) ; LP:Blake Snell (1-1) ; SV: Ryan Pressly (2)
Home Runs: HOU - Kyle Tucker (1); TB - Manuel Margot 2 (3)
  • Attendance: none

In Game 6, the Astros did what only one team before them had been able to do in the history of postseason baseball: even up a series in which they had trailed, 3-0. Only the 2004 Boston Red Sox, on their way to breaking the Curse of the Bambino, had managed that feat, but today the Astros joined them thanks to their 7-4 win over the Rays. The pitching match-up was a repeat of Game 1, with Framber Valdez facing Blake Snell, but this time, it was Valdez who came out on top, although one could argue that he had also outpitched Snell in Game 1, even if he had ended up on the losing side of the decision. This time, there was no mistaking his dominating performance: in 6 innings, he gave up just 1 run, and struck out 9 batters, all of them thanks to a devastating curve ball that had the Rays batters tying themselves into knots - and losing their cool. Snell was not as sharp, although he held the Astros scoreless through 4 innings, as he needed a lot of pitches and was constantly behind in the count. He was walking the edge of a precipice at all times, and in the 5th, Kevin Cash had seen enough, removing him after he had put the first two batters on base, and that's when the fragile house of cards came tumbling down.

For once, the Astros did not hit a homer in the 1st - indeed did not score at all - as the inning ended on a strike him out/throw him out double play with Jose Altuve being gunned down at second base. The 2nd was long and painful for Snell as he needed another double play, this one by Alex Bregman to erase the first baserunner - Carlos Correa who had singled - then walked Kyle Tucker and Yuli Gurriel before getting Aledmys Diaz to ground out. The Rays got the only dent in Valdez's armor in the bottom of that inning when Brandon Lowe singled with one out and Willy Adames drove him in with a two-out double. That slim 1-0 lead held through the 3rd and 4th innings with Snell laboring while Valdez had hit his cruising speed. The game turned in the 5th when Snell started the inning by walking Gurriel and allowing a single to Diaz. Snell was fuming when Cash came to get him out of the game, feeling he still had gas in the tank, but closer Diego Castillo replaced him. Had this been any other team but the Rays, it would have been a highly unusual move, but for the Rays it was par for the course - but it did not work at all. Martin Maldonado, who had been a pest all series, laid down a sacrifice bunt that may not have been an analytically sound move, but set up a big inning. The next two batters, George Springer and Altuve, hit a single and a double, and it was 3-1 for the Astros just like that. A passed ball by Mike Zunino allowed Altuve to advance to third base, then Castillo walked Michael Brantley as the inning was now tumbling downhill like a runaway boulder. Correa followed with a single, making it 4-1, before Bregman finally ended it by grounding into a double play.

In the 6th, young Shane McClanahan replaced Castillo, but he gave up a homer to the first batter he faced, Tucker. In the bottom of the inning, after one out, Hunter Renfroe singled and Yandy Diaz drew a walk, jawing at Valdez as he took his base. It took a while to cool tempers, with Maldonado and Correa coming to the mound to calm down the young Valdez who instead of being rattled, ended his day's work by forcing Lowe to hit into a double play. The Astros put the game definitely away by getting a couple more runs against McClanahan in the 7th, with the help of another two passed balls by Zunino, as Altuve, Brantley, Correa and Tucker were again in the middle of things. The Astros' first reliever was Andre Scrubb, and he coughed up a gopher ball to the first batter he faced, Manuel Margot and walked Adames and Mike Brosseau while it was Maldonado's turn to allow a passed ball, but there was no more scoring that inning as Blake Taylor recorded the final out by getting Randy Arozarena to ground out. In the 8th, Jose Alvarado walked the bases full of Astros before recording an out, but he and Aaron Loup escaped without a run by combining to strike out the next three batters. It was only a small moral victory though, but the Rays tried to build on it by continuing to attack the Astros' middle relief corps in the bottom of the inning when Lowe drew a two-out walk and Margot hit his second homer in two innings, this one off Cristian Javier. But in spite of the three unanswered runs, the Rays still trailed, 7-4, heading into the 9th, and the hill was just too steep. Closer Ryan Pressly came in for the third straight game and picked up his second save, in addition to his Game 5 win, as Brosseau grounded into a game-ending double play. The Astros had managed to climb out of their deep hole and a decisive Game 7 would be needed.

Game 7 @ Petco Park[edit]

Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Astros 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 2 7 0
Rays 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 x 4 6 0
WP: Charlie Morton (2-0) ; LP: Lance McCullers; SV: Peter Fairbanks (2)
Home Runs: TB - Randy Arozarena (4), Mike Zunino (2)
  • Attendance: none

The Rays reached the World Series for only the second time in franchise history by defeating the Astros, 4-2, in Game 7, in the process thwarting the Astros' bid to become only the second team to overcome a three-games to none deficit in a postseason series. The match-up on the mound was the same as in Game 1, with former teammates and tag team partners in the 2017 Postseason Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers facing one another. For the Rays, Kevin Kiermaier was back in the line-up in centerfield, his first start since taking a pitch off his left hand in Game 4, but there was some question whether he would be able to swing the bat properly; however, he was there mainly for his defensive skills. The Astros delegated their standard line-up, although Michael Brantley was the DH because of concerns over the health of his legs, with Josh Reddick playing RF and Kyle Tucker in LF.

The Astros failed to hit their customary early home run in the 1st inning, although Brantley did get a two-out single off Morton, but the inning ended when the next batter, Carlos Correa, struck out. The Astros did not know it at the time, but that strikeout started a string of 14 consecutive outs recorded by Morton, taking him into the 6th inning, something which would force them to play catch-up all evening after McCullers was touched for a couple of runs in the bottom half of the 1st. Things started with McCullers' second pitch of the game, which grazed lead-off hitter Manuel Margot's shirt, putting him on base with a hit-by-pitch. McCullers struck out the still-struggling Brandon Lowe, but the man of the hour for Tampa, Randy Arozarena, stepped up to the plate and on the sixth pitch of the at-bat drove a ball to deep left-center for a two-run homer. It was his fourth of the series and seventh of the postseason, setting a new rookie record - and was only one shy for the all-time record for a single postseason. That was already a crushing blow, but in the 2nd, it was Mike Zunino's turn to go deep by driving a pitch to left field on a full count for a 3-0 lead. The Rays were now in control, and the difference between the two dugouts was apparent for all to see, with the Rays players loose and smiling, and the Astros tense and silent.

McCullers settled down after the early fireworks, but given Morton was steamrolling them at this point, the Astros' dream of completing their remarkable comeback was getting further away with each inning. Brooks Raley replaced McCullers with a man on and two out in the 4th, a move with which McCullers did not agree, as everyone could read his lips to see him tell manager Dusty Baker "He can't swing", referring to the man coming up, Kiermaier. Raley struck out Kiermaier to end the inning, and Jose Urquidy took over in the 5th. The Astros' finally broke Morton's dominant string when Martin Maldonado drew a one-out walk in the 6th. He was forced out by George Springer, who went to third on a single by Jose Altuve. In the olden days, Morton would have been left in to face the next batter, Brantley, but the analytics-minded Rays had already gone off script by allowing him to start a third trip through the Astros' line-up, so he gave way to Nick Anderson even though he had not allowed a single hard-hit ball all game. Anderson got Brantley to ground to second to end the inning. The Rays got the first two men on base against Urquidy in the bottom of the 6th, on a single by Ji-Man Choi and a walk to Willy Adames, then Choi took third on a fly ball to right by Joey Wendle and scored when Zunino just missed his second homer of the game, flying out to the center field warning track. The lead was now a comfortable 4-0, and the extra cushion would prove important a couple of innings later.

The Rays really had their only chance of the game in the 8th. Anderson was still on the mound and got Reddick to ground out for the first out, after which Baker sent in Aledmys Diaz to pinch-hit for Maldonado. He drew a walk, but Springer grounded out for the second out. Altuve then hit a ball to the shortstop hole for an infield single, putting runners on the corners. Cash replaced the tiring Anderson with fireballing Pete Fairbanks, but one of his pitches got far away enough from Zunino for Altuve to advance to second. Brantley then walked to load the bases, bringing up Correa, who hit a ball to the opposite field, his single to right scoring two runners to cut the lead in half. Alex Bregman had a chance to tie the game, but he struck out on four pitches, missing a fastball clocked at 100 mph to end the inning. In the bottom of the inning, the Rays threatened again as, exactly like what had happened in the 6th, Choi singled and Adames drew a walk, but with Mike Brosseau running for Choi, Wendle hit into an inning-ending double play. It was up to Fairbanks to close out the game, and he did it by striking out Tucker, then after a single by Yuli Gurriel - only the 5th hit by the first baseman all postseason - striking out Reddick as well. Diaz, who had remained in the game, was next up, but he hit Fairbanks' first offering for a routingefly ball to right field, and when Margot caught it, the Rays had won the pennant. Arozarena was an obvious choice to win the ALCS MVP Award, as he had come through time and time again with big hits, including four long balls.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Paul Casella: "ALCS a Rays-Astros rematch -- kind of", mlb.com, October 10, 2020. [1]
  • AJ Cassavell: "Arozarena slugs way to ALCS MVP honors", mlb.com, October 18, 2020. [2]
  • Anthony Castrovince: "Astros vs. Rays: Who's tops at each position?", mlb.com, October 11, 2020. [3]
  • Richard Justice: "Here are 6 bold predictions for the ALCS", mlb.com, October 10, 2020. [4]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Rays vs. Astros ALCS preview, schedule, predictions: Can Houston overcome top-seeded Tampa Bay?", USA Today, October 11, 2020. [5]
  • Bob Nightengale: "'The Rays are a damn good team': Tampa Bay fights off Houston in ALCS Game 7, advance to World Series", USA Today, October 17, 2020. [6]
  • Mike Petriello: "How the Rays' defense helped decide ALCS", mlb.com, October 18, 2020. [7]
  • Juan Toribio: "'A pretty special feeling': Rays headed to WS", mlb.com, October 18, 2020. [8]
  • Bernie Wilson (Associated Pres): "Bad-boy Astros, fun-loving Rays set to face off in ALCS", USA Today, October 10, 2020. [9]

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