October 17, 2020

ALCS 7: Rays 4, Astros 2

Astros - 000 000 020 - 2  7  0
Rays - 210 001 00x - 4 6 0

The 2004 Red Sox stand alone as the only major league team to win a seven-game series after losing the first three games. All remains as it should be in this tiny corner of the universe.

The 2020 Houston Astros found out on Saturday night that coming back from 0-3 is not so easy. The Astros (who finished the regular season 29-31) were not as great a team as the 2004 Red Sox and the Rays were nowhere near as choke-y as the 2004 Yankees.

Tampa Bay starter Charlie Morton pitched 5.2 scoreless innings (5.2-2-0-1-6, 66), Randy Arozarena continued his torrid hitting with a two-run, opposite-field home run in the first inning, his seventh dong in this postseason, and Mike Zunino added a solo shot in the second and a sac fly in the sixth.

Arozarena was named the ALCS Most Valuable Player, the first rookie position player to win an LCS MVP. He hit .321 average, with four home runs boosting a 1.152 OPS.

Pete Fairbanks nailed down the win for the Rays, but he had a rough start to his night. He came into the game with his team up 4-0, but with Astros on first and third and two outs. He walked his first batter on four pitches (and ball 2 was a wild pitch) and gave up a two-run single to Carlos Correa. He ended the threat by striking out Alex Bregman on a 100-mph fastball up and away.

Fairbanks fanned Kyle Tucker to start the ninth. On 0-2, he fired a fastball (99) up, out of the zone, for ball one, followed with a slider (89) in the dirt that was fouled off, and then went back upstairs with heat (99) and Tucker swung under it. Yuri Gurriel lined a 2-1 pitch to right for a single, and Houston brought the potential tying run to the plate. (One benefit of no crowd: We were spared the sight of fans "praying".)

Josh Reddick (who I learned is the all-time leader in "winner-take-all games played", with nine) got ahead in the count 2-1, but took a strike down the middle and fouled off another pitch before going down swinging, on more Fairbanks gas.

Aledmys Diaz (who had pinch-hit in the eighth, walked and scored) did not produce any drama. He lofted the first pitch to right. Manuel Margot came in a little bit, made the catch, and the celebration began. It was the second pennant for the Rays, who also grabbed the flag in 2008 (though the Red Sox nearly came back from 1-3 in that series).

Morton was the undisputed star of the night. (He was the anti-Kevin Brown.) After giving up a hit with two outs in the first, he retired 14 straight batters before going to his first three-ball count on his 18th batter and walking him. Before the walk, Morton had had only three two-ball counts. He threw 30 pitches in three innings, the same number Lance McCullers (3.2-4-3-1-7, 75) threw in the first inning alone. Morton's pitch count after five innings was 49, one fewer than McCullers' first two innings of work.

Also: McCullers is the first pitcher in postseason history to have two games with 7+ strikeouts and 2 home runs allowed (Games 2 and 7). I doubt that will go on his resume.

Dan Martin, Post:

OK, Yankees fans, here's the good news: the Astros aren't going back to the World Series.

The bad news?

The Yankees' newest rivals, the Rays, are headed there instead — and the Yankees remain the only team to have blown a three-game series lead in the playoffs. . . .

Houston was just the second team to have forced a Game 7 after dropping the first three games of a playoff series, joining the 2004 Red Sox. Unlike Boston, though, the Astros couldn't finish the job.

TBS's broadcast was not atrocious (neither Joe Buck not John Smoltz was involved), but it was marred by Ron Darling's excessive earnestness (which lacked the goofiness that Tim McCarver brought to his overheated observations) and some odd interjections from Brian Anderson, the play-by-play guy.

First, we learned that one of the Astros' "keys to victory" was: "Stars need to shine".  . . . Interesting. In the bottom of the first, Darling told us that plate umpire Lance Barksdale is known to have a wider, "pitcher's" strike zone. Wider than what, you might ask? The rule book, I guess. Darling offered no evidence he found the fact of Barksdale's expanding of the strike zone unusual, unethical, or incompetent. However, considering how few times I yelled at the screen, Barksdale seemed to call a decent game, with his zone favouring no one.

In the bottom of the second, Anderson expressed excessive praise for Rays catcher Mike Zunino. He said Zunino had been "doing damage" in the series (with a .250 average and no walks). He had hit a home run in Game 2, which Anderson described as "long" before also telling us it was estimated at 353 feet. (So it actually barely cleared the wall?) Darling and second analyist Jeff Francoeur poked fun at Anderson for thinking a 353-foot homer was hit a "long" ways, but Anderson doubled down, referring to the "long" dong again a few seconds later. (Then Zunino ended an eight-pitch at-bat by blasting a truly long home run, 430 feet, into the second deck in left. Anderson gushed that Zunino was "in the nitro zone". If you say so . . .)

When Morton was pulled and Nick Anderson came in from the bullpen, Announcer Anderson referred to him as "the closer for the starter", which is a dumb expression I have never heard before. Anderson retired his one batter for an inning-ending out, so does he (as the CFTS) get a save for that? Also, when Morton was shown on the bench, the on-screen graphic said he allowed one hit. He had been pulled after giving up his second hit.

At various times, TBS put tweets from other players on the screen. This was wholly unnecessary as the only insight they provided was that major league players are no more pithy than the average fan. Comments like "This is the moment" or a tweet with a player's name and a bicep emoji can only piss off the viewer, thus providing negative value to a broadcast.

2020 is only the third season in which the LCS in both leagues have gone the full seven games. Of course, the ALCS was expanded to seven games fairly recently (in 1985), so this has been possible for only 35 years (omitting 1994). Three out of 35 seasons (2003, 2004, 2020) still seems like very low number.

Go, Dodgers!

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