The Astros were given no margin for error coming into Wednesday's Game 4 of the ALCS against the Rays, and the defending American League champs responded accordingly. Down 3-0 in the best-of-seven series, the Astros prevailed in a taut Game 4 by a score of 4-3 and forced a Game 5.
Zack Greinke turned in a solid six innings for Houston, and Jose Altuve and George Springer each homered off hard-throwing Tyler Glasnow. For the Rays, Randy Arozarena continued his sweltering October with a two-run shot of his own -- his fifth home run and 19th hit of the 2020 postseason. The Rays mounted a rally in the ninth, as Willy Adames hit a ringing two-out double off Ryan Pressly to plate Joey Wendle and reduce the deficit to one run. Adames advanced to third on a wild pitch, but Pressly rebounded to retire Yoshi Tsutsugo on a well-struck humpback liner for the final out.
The Astros will be faced with another elimination game on Thursday back at neutral-site Petco Park in San Diego as they try to become just the second team in MLB history to come back from down 0-3 and win a playoff series. The Rays, meantime, remain one win away from the second pennant in franchise history.
Now for some things to know about Game 4.
Altuve had a redemption game
Altuve came into Game 4 with a slash line of .385/.467/.846 for the current ALCS, so his hitting hasn't been the problem. However, Altuve has made three critical throwing errors in this series, which had prompted invocations of Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch and led to concerns that Altuve is suffering from the dreaded "yips."
Undaunted, Altuve homered in the first inning to give the Astros a dugout-enlivening 1-0 lead in Game 4, and then in the third he hit a clutch two-out double that plated the second run of the game. Those two early RBI proved necessary.
As noted above, Springer also homered in Game 4, and that occasioned this bit of shared history:
They're also tied for the most postseason home runs in Astros franchise history.
Greinke delivered under difficult circumstances
Greinke turns 37 in a few days, is in his 17th major league season, and may wind up in the Hall of Fame some day. In that sense, it's strange to call him an unknown quantity. However, the circumstances specific to his Game 4 start made him just that. Greinke has been dealing with arm soreness and as a result was pushed back in Houston's ALCS rotation. As well, said sore arm affected him in his last start, in which he allowed four runs in 4 2/3 innings against the A's in Game 4 of the ALDS.
Greinke, though, came through in Game 4. It wasn't his most dominant outing, but it was a highly effective one at a time when the Astros could afford nothing less:
Greinke's final frame was particularly dramatic. He began the top of the sixth by retiring Mike Zunino on a fly out, but then he yielded back-to-back singles. At that point, reliever Ryan Pressly was warmed up and began to head toward the mound. On the mound, though, manager Dusty Baker made the unconventional-by-current-standards decision to stick with Greinke. To repeat, Greinke was coming off a sore arm, and he hadn't pitched this deeply into a game since Sept. 8. He was also into the Rays' order for the third time, which is a danger spot for any starting pitcher. Still and yet, Baker stuck with his ace.
Greinke struck out Arozarena for the second out, but then Ji-Man Choi reached on an infield nubber. Baker didn't blink and allowed Greinke to face Mike Brosseau. Brosseau ran the count full, but then Greinke spun off a clutch changeup for strike three.
Inning over. The Astros' bullpen took it from there. The Rays plated a run in the ninth, but Pressly closed them out with the potential tying run on third base.
The Rays are still in command
Yes, Tampa Bay is still up 3-1, which means they need to win only one more game before the Astros win three more. Not surprisingly, teams in the Rays' current straits have most often cleared that low bar. Specifically, teams up 3-1 in a best-of-seven MLB postseason series have gone on to win that series 85.1 percent of the time. On the other hand, teams up 3-1 have won Game 5 just 50.6 percent of the time. So there's your hope, Houston.