HOUSTON – Lance McCullers Jr. and Carlos correa grew up together in the Astros organization. They were separated from 40 picks at the top of the 2012 MLB Draft and represented the future of a Houston team that was knee deep in one of the most aggressive rebuilding moves in recent baseball history. .
McCullers and Correa made their Major League debuts within a month of each other in the summer of 2015 – helping the Astros achieve a surprising playoff run just two years off the 111-game loss. . They were All-Stars two years later and won a World Series, becoming key players in Houston’s fledgling new dynasty.
So maybe it was fair for McCullers and Correa to play heroes on Thursday night for the Astros, who were finally able to land their fourth. American League Western Championship in five seasons with a 3-2 win over the Rays at Minute Maid Park.
“He’s been important to us time and time again,” McCullers said of Correa. “He’s just never short of big hits or big moments on this team. We’re going to be counting on him, we’re going to be counting on a lot of these guys, but especially on him to get through the month of October.
• Remaining games: 3 against A
• Ranking update: The Astros won the AL West.
• Magic number for home advantage in ALDS: 1 (on White Sox)
Correa, who is a free agent at the end of the season, never ceases to amaze manager Dusty Baker.
“He’s a big Carlos for me,” he said. “The guy comes back over and over again. He thinks he’ll be okay with it. … I hope there is a way to keep and recruit Carlos because he is a big part of this team, not only on the pitch but he is one of the real leaders of this team.
The Astros will face AL Central champion Chicago White Sox in the AL Division series, which starts thursday. Houston’s magic number to land home advantage in the ALDS is one.
McCullers, the Astros’ likely game opener, finished the regular season 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA in 28 starts, including 15 quality starts. He limited his opponents to three earned runs or less in 23 of those 28 starts and pulled out a career-high 185 batting.
“I love this guy with all my heart,” Correa said. “He’s my brother for life. It’s always special to play behind him, especially today that he had to give us that huge win that we needed.
McCullers limited the Rays to two runs in six innings, with no hits in the sixth, and Correa’s career-high 25th Homer – a three-run shot in the fourth inning – gave the Astros a 3-0 lead. . It was a huge sigh of relief for an offense that was ruled out on Wednesday.
“It was a great swing for us,” said third baseman Alex Bregman. “Especially with the way Lance pitched baseball. It gave us every chance to win the game. Our enclosure came in and did a great job. It was a great team victory in the eventing. It was solid and we will continue.
The Rays made it interesting, of course, when Brandon Lowe hit a two-run homerun against McCullers in the sixth. The Houston relievers box slammed the door, with Ryne Stanek, Kendall Graveman and Ryan Pressly each pitching a scoreless inning.
“It’s always an exciting time to launch your team into the playoffs,” said McCullers, who was on the mound when the Astros picked up the 2017 AL pennant. “Winning a division is not easy. I think we’ve done a great job this year and we’re looking forward to the playoffs. “
The Astros looked set to win the division a week ago, but they lost five of six games and saw the booming Mariners come closer to less than 3-1 / 2 games on Friday. Even finishing Thursday’s game turned out to be a challenge against the Rays, who are the No. 1 seed in the LA.
The Rays had two in play and no strikeout in the ninth against Pressly, who got a 3-4-1 double play to push the point equal to third. Yandy Díaz won for the final and the Astros were ready to party at Minute Maid Park. Houston is in the playoffs for the fifth straight year and is set for another deep run behind its experienced core.
“We have a great ball club,” Correa said. “But the organization we’ve built here is amazing. We want to make it five consecutive ALCS for us. Hopefully we can do that and win a World Series. This is what we really want.