From rule-breaking villains to history-making, well, villains. That is the story of the 2020 Houston Astros.
With their 7-4 win in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, the Astros have rallied from a 3-0 deficit to force a decisive Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday. At stake now for Houston is not only a second straight trip to the World Series, but a chance to join truly elite postseason company.
With a win on Saturday, the Astros would become only the second team in MLB history to climb from a 3-0 hole to win a playoff series, joining the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Now, here’s the part every fan rooting against Houston won’t want to hear: By merely reaching Game 7, the 2020 Astros have already made history and guaranteed they’ll be mentioned in a positive connotation for years upon decades and even generations to come.
How the Astros have made history
As we’ve seen time and time again in 2020, the Astros have saved their best baseball for when it mattered most. Coming off an unspectacular 29-31 regular season, no one anticipated them advancing beyond the wild-card series, let alone eliminating two division championship teams in the Minnesota Twins and Oakland A’s.
Yet the Astros did it.
In accomplishing that feat, the Astros became the first team with a losing record to win a postseason series and reach the League Championship Series.
After losing three straight to the Rays to open the ALCS, only the most optimistic Astros fans envisioned the series reaching seven games. Why? Because since MLB expanded the LCS to seven games in 1985, only nine of 39 teams that went down 3-0 had even forced a Game 5, let alone a Game 6 or Game 7.
On Thursday, Houston remarkably became just the fourth to reach a Game 6.
Here’s a brief look at this very brief list.
1998 Braves: Forced a Game 6 in the NLCS before eventually falling to the San Diego Padres.
Like the 2020 Astros, this Braves team was battle-tested in October, having reached the postseason eight years in a row. Manager Bobby Cox was pulling out all the stops to stay alive, using Hall of Fame starter Greg Maddux as his closer in Game 5.
1999 Mets: Forced a Game 6 in the NLCS but lost to the Atlanta Braves.
This time, the Braves were forced to hold on after a fast NLCS start. The relentless Mets survived in Game 4 with a 3-2 win and then won a marathon Game 5, 4-3, in 15 innings. Game 6 went 11 innings before Andruw Jones drew a bases-loaded walk against Kenny Rogers.
2004 Red Sox: Forced a Game 6 in the ALCS and never lost again, winning Games 6 and 7 before sweeping the World Series.
Before Boston’s comeback, overcoming a 3-0 deficit seemed impossible. Since, we’ve started viewing each step in the comeback process with renewed interest and urgency. We know at some point it will happen again. With that potential moment upon us, it makes us appreciate more what those Red Sox did and what it takes to keep battling.
The only difference: If the Astros do it, we doubt they’ll have a feel-good movie made about their season.
Would Houston’s comeback be more impressive?
There’s a definite argument to be made in Houston’s favor given the circumstances surrounding the 2020 postseason.
First and foremost, the lack of off days during each series has forced teams to dig deeper into their reserves. Given the Rays’ starting pitching depth and the versatility of their bullpen, a longer series seemed to work in their favor. However, it’s been the Astros, without Justin Verlander and without a reliable bullpen, who have powered through.
The other factor is the depth of the postseason. Boston swept the Angels in the 2004 ALDS before advancing to face the Yankees. The Astros have already gone through two series, where they eliminated the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the AL playoffs. If they overcome Tampa Bay, they’ll have knocked out the top three seeds.
Like it or not, baseball fans, the Astros have already done something special in the 2020 postseason. The question now is how much more special it will get.
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