The Houston Astros are battling history and hatred, and over the past three games, they prevailed.
The Astros are just the second team in baseball history to force a Game 7 after dropping the initial three games of a best-of-seven postseason series, beating the Tampa Bay Rays each of the past three days to push the American League Championship Series to the limit.
Game 7 is scheduled for Saturday night at Petco Park in San Diego.
The Boston Red Sox rallied from a three-game deficit to defeat the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS en route to their first World Series championship since 1918.
Following a tumultuous offseason and ragged regular season in which they underperformed, the Astros have battled back and are on the verge of their third World Series appearance in four seasons. Their 2017 World Series championship lost much of its luster after a Major League Baseball investigation found Houston illegally stole opponents' signs that year.
Astros manager Dusty Baker acknowledged the public backlash against his club Friday, saying after Houston beat Tampa Bay 7-4 to level the ALCS, "This team's battled back big-time. You've got to love this team, or some people hate this team, but I mean, you've at least got to respect this team, I think, the way that they've worked.
"I know people have given me a lot of credit, but I don't deserve any of it. They deserve it by their hard work and their perseverance."
Right-hander Lance McCullers (0-1, 4.09 ERA in the 2020 postseason) will start Saturday for the Astros. He pitched exceptionally in Game 2 but was undone by a Jose Altuve throwing error that led to the Rays' three-run first inning. McCullers allowed four runs (one earned) on four hits and a walk with 11 strikeouts over seven innings in a 4-2 loss.
For his career in the postseason, McCullers is 1-1 with a 2.93 ERA in 13 games (six starts).
The Rays will counter with right-hander Charlie Morton (2-0, 0.90 ERA in the 2020 postseason), the winning pitcher in Game 2. Morton fired five scoreless innings against the Astros, for whom he was the winning pitcher out of the bullpen in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, a contest started by McCullers.
Morton is 6-2 with a 3.16 ERA in 11 career postseason appearances (10 starts).
"As much as anybody on our roster, he's the been-there, done-that guy," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We've relied on Charlie quite a bit in his two years with us; not sure there will be a game bigger than this to rely on him. But just confident that his poise, his experience will allow us to get off to a good start and see if we can get some runs on the board for him early."
For the Rays, their biggest challenge in Game 7 might be managing the surprise of being in a winner-take-all affair following their near-flawless play over the first three games of the ALCS.
"We've got to bounce back," Cash said. "This isn't the scenario that we wanted up 3-0, but this is a resilient group.
"We've going to show up (Saturday) and do everything we can, like we always do, to find a way to win and pick each other up. There's no doubt the momentum has shifted, but I would bet on this team being very available and capable of bouncing back."
--Field Level Media
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