McCoy: Walk-on home run keeps Astros alive in ALCS

Was that really an American League Championship elimination game for the Houston Astros Thursday? It more resembled a spring training exhibition game with manager Dusty Baker checking out a string of rookie pitchers.

With his starting staff depleted, the first five pitchers Baker sent to the mound to face the Tampa Bay Rays were rookies — Luis Garcia, Blake Taylor, Enoli Paredes, Andre Scrubb and Brooks Raley.

And it worked. Carlos Correa hit a walk-off one-out home run in the bottom of the ninth to give the Astros a season-saving 4-3 victory.

The blast off Rays closer Nick Anderson cleared the center field wall and cleared the way for the Astros to play in a Game 6. After losing the first three, Houston has won the next two in the best of seven series.

“I knew he had a good fastball, with about a 20-inch hop,” said Correa. "I just wanted to get on top of a fastball and hit it to center field. And that’s what I did. I knew it was gone off the bat. The ball carries here (Petco Park) in the day time. I hit it, I knew it was gone.

“I told the guys in the dugout I was going to do it, but actually doing it is a whole different story,” he added. “I’m super-hyped. I didn’t want to go home yet.”

And they live for another day, thanks to Correa and that string of five rookie pitchers who held the Rays to two runs and four hits over 6 2/3 innings.

Incredibly, the first three Tampa Bay pitchers were rookies, too — John Curtis, Josh Fleming and Aaron Slegers. And they held the Astros to three runs and five hits over seven innings.

Both teams stressed their perceived importance of scoring first and the Astros needed one pitch to grab the lead.

Astros leadoff hitter George Springer turned on the first pitch thrown by Tampa Bay’s ‘opener,’ John Curtis, and sent it on a 408-foot trip onto the second floor of the Western Metals Supply building in the left field corner for a 1-0 lead.

Houston’s young rookie starter, Luis Garcia, filled the bases in the second with two walks and a hit batsman. Tampa Bay catcher Mike Zunino came within a few feet of a grand slam home run, but right fielder Josh Reddick caught it at the base of the wall to end the inning.

Houston’s bullpen parade began in the third when left hander Blake Taylor took the mound. His first assignment, slump-ridden left hander Brandon Lowe, batting leadoff for only the second time this season. And he drove a home run into the right field seats to tie, 1-1. It was the first run given up by Taylor in nine games.

The Astros forged ahead, 3-1, with a pair of runs in the third off Josh Fleming. The inning began with a single by Reddick and a double by Martin Maldonado. With one out Michael Brantley shot a sharp two-run single to right.

Tampa Bay retrieved one of those runs in the fifth against Enoli Paredes, the daily home run hit by Randy Arozarena, his sixth home run of the postseason. That cut Houston’s margin to 3-2.

After those five rookie pitchers held the Rays pretty much at bay, the Astros sent veteran hard-thrower Josh James to the mound.

And the second batter he faced, Ji-Man Choi, led the eight with a massive blast to right field, a home run that tied it, 3-3.

Manuel Margot then singled, but was erased on a 1-6-3 double play. James hurt himself on the play and was replaced by closer Ryan Pressly.

Tampa Bay’s Mike Zinino led the top of the ninth with a single and advanced to second on a one-out wild pitch by Pressly. But two fly balls by Arozarena and Austin Meadows left it at 3-3.

The Rays stranded nine runners, including the bases loaded once, and were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.

Correa didn’t need any runners on base to end it dramatically and emphatically.

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