SAN DIEGO – Carlos Correa might have provided the exclamation point, scoring a winning home run late in the ninth inning on Thursday to keep the Astros’ season alive for at least one more day, but it was the cool hand of manager Dusty Baker who kept Houston in that game, giving Correa a chance for his drama.
At the start of the game, Baker was looking for a two, six, eight, jack and queen to play, meaning he really had nothing except his decades of experience and one of the best faces in poker. play for him.
On the Houston mound was rookie Luis Garcia, who had accumulated 12 ½ innings of Big League experience, had never pitched in the playoffs, and had stepped on a Big League mound for 19 days more. early. The next three relievers Baker brought in, like Garcia, all made their major league debuts in the truncated 2020 season, and the fifth is still listed as a rookie.
“I have been proud of these rookies all year,” Baker said. “They become veterans in no time. “
It was the equivalent of juggling on a high wire. But Baker, the game’s longest-serving coach at 71, never blinked and clinched one of the most unlikely playoff wins in memory, handing the Tampa Bay Rays a grueling 4-3 loss, punctuated by the winner of the match from Correa.
The pre-game plan was to have Garcia for three innings, or once in the Tampa Bay roster. Garcia made it through the Rays roster, but did so in just two innings, both scoreless. From there, Baker called in Blake Taylor, who allowed a solo home run while taking out two batters. Enoli Paredes was next. He also gave up on a solo shot, but managed to get five strikeouts.
“They had action, but when it mattered they were only hitting solo homers,” Baker said of the Rays’ three goals – empty homers.
Baker hadn’t finished yet. Andre Scrubb and Brooks Raley, who pitched the last five years in Korea, were called up and combined to get seven strikeouts. In all, Baker eliminated 6⅔ innings of five rookies, making three mid-inning pitch changes before handing the ball to Josh James and Ryan Pressly.
“We don’t have a pen veteran present – no Joe Smith, no [Chris] Devinsky, no [Roberto] Osuna, ”Baker said before Game 5. I have a group of children who had to learn on the job. ”
“We don’t treat anyone like the rookies here,” said veteran Michael Brantley.
What seemed unlikely is now a fact: There will be Game 6 in the American League Championship Series on Friday after the Baker Astros have stopped elimination for two consecutive days. In the history of the seven-game series, 38 clubs have taken a 3-0 lead. The 2020 Astros join the 1998 Braves, ’99 Mets and 2004 Red Sox as the only clubs to force a Game 6.
Suddenly, the chances of the Astros do not seem so far-fetched. They’ll now send a fully rested Framber Valdez, who pitched a 2.00 ERA in 18 playoff innings this year, to the mound on Friday and veteran Lance McCullers Jr., who pitched brilliantly in Game 2, is also ready to start. completely rested, for a possible match 7.
Baker’s chances, while still long, don’t seem as impossible as after the Astros fell to a series hole 3-0.
“We can play another day,” Baker said. “We are one more step to cross this mountain and this obstacle which seemed to be very far a few days ago. I feel good where we are because we don’t have to get on that plane and go to Houston.
“We all want to go to Dallas [for the World Series]. »