So it comes down to this Thursday night in Houston, the city and area where I grew up after moving there as a baby with my adoptive family from Huntington, West Virginia:
Astros vs. Rays, American League Division Series Game 5, tied at two games apiece after nothing but wins by the home teams. October baseball at its exhilarating, nerve-wracking, win-or-go-home, emotional roller coaster-riding finest.
Anyone who read my blog post before the playoffs started – even though it was written prior to the wild-card game that determined the Astros’ foe – may remember my saying nothing’s assured for a team that won 107 games, more than any other. That whether they played the A’s or the Rays, the Astros would be pushed to five games.
So here we are, and it hasn’t looked pretty for our team these past two games after they won the first two in the comfortable, at times deafening confines of Minute Maid Park.
We all knew this wouldn’t be easy, right? After all, the Rays won 96 games, only 11 fewer than the Astros. And they did beat the 103-win Yankees seven times, finishing just seven games back of NYY in the AL East.
But speaking as the eternal pessimist I tend to be, I’m actually confident about Thursday. The Astros are back home, where they’ve won 62 games this year. They’ve got Gerrit Cole, 17-0 since late May, ready to take the mound as the playoff stopper his team desperately needs, a la Mike Scott in 1986 and Roy Oswalt in 2005.
They’ve got an overpowering offense that really hasn’t flexed its muscle during this series yet, due in large part to Tampa Bay’s unknown, unsung pitching staff that has, for the most part, shut down the Astros’ bats. It’s the same staff that compiled a 3.65 team ERA during the regular season, a smidge ahead of Houston’s 3.66, and limited opponents to a .230 batting average (trailing the Astros’ .221 and the Dodgers’ .223).
The Astros will be going up against a great young pitcher in Tyler Glasnow, who stands tall in stature and ability. I have no doubt he’ll pitch well. But I also think you’re going to see some guys come through for the home team. Guys who may not have done a whole lot so far.
As I’ve said before, I’m not into predictions, and I’m not necessarily making one here. But I do think the Astros will play one of their best games of the series. What’s more, to advance to the ALCS against the Yankees, they know that’s what they have to do. And they’ve been here before, which counts for a lot.
So let’s go, Astros! To borrow from a phrase we Aggies use in our traditional yells against football opponents … BTHO the Rays!!!