The Astros couldn't pull it off

Exciting playoff run by Astros ends with ALCS Game 7 loss to Rays

Astros Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Houston's season ends with ALCS Game 7 loss

Against all odds, first just to make it to this series having reached the playoffs with a losing record and being underdogs along the way, then going down 3-0 to the Rays in the series itself, the Houston Astros found themselves in a Game 7 trying to make history. A loss and their season would come to an abrupt end. A win and they'd advance to their third World Series in four seasons and become just the second team in MLB history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series.

Unfortunately for Houston, Tampa Bay would play their best game over the last four, holding Houston's offense at bay while taking advantage of the Astros' pitching mistakes. The Rays advance to the World Series to face the winner between the Dodgers and Braves in the NLCS. Here is how Game 7 unfolded:

Final Score: Rays 4, Astros 2.

Series: TB wins 4-3.

Winning Pitcher: Charlie Morton.

Losing Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr.

Rays strike first and send McCullers Jr. out early

It was Tampa Bay who looked focused and ready to start the game. While Charlie Morton made quick work of Houston's lineup in his first two innings, Lance McCullers Jr. was getting strikeouts but allowed two hits, both home runs, one a two-run shot by Randy Arozarena in the first, then a solo homer by Mike Zunino in the second, putting the Astros in an early 3-0 hole.

McCullers Jr. would refocus, but only enough to get two outs into the fourth inning before Dusty Baker would make the early call to his bullpen to bring in Brooks Raley to finish the inning. Jose Urquidy was next, working around a walk for a scoreless fifth to start his relief appearance.

Houston continues to hunt their first run

Meanwhile, Charlie Morton was dominating the Astros. He allowed just one hit and baserunner in the first five, a first-inning single by Michael Brantley. Houston would get their first baserunner since that hit in the first, a one-out walk by Martin Maldonado in the top of the sixth. He would get forced out at second on a groundball by George Springer, but Springer would move to third on an infield single, putting the tying run at the plate and prompting Kevin Cash to dip into his bullpen. The move would work, as Houston would strand both runners and keep it a 3-0 Tampa Bay lead.

Urquidy remained in the game for the bottom of the sixth, but a leadoff single would end up scoring after a walk and two sac flies to extend the Rays' lead to 4-0. The Astros tried to get something going in the top of the seventh, getting a one-out single by Alex Bregman followed by a single by Kyle Tucker to move him to third. They would waste the scoring opportunity, with Yuli Gurriel's dreadful postseason continuing by grounding into an inning-ending double play.

Astros unable to complete the historic comeback

Blake Taylor would be next out of Houston's bullpen and tossed a 1-2-3 top of the seventh. In the top of the eighth, the Astros would load the bases with two outs on a single and two walks, bringing Carlos Correa to the plate. He would get Houston on the board, getting a two-RBI single to cut the lead in half at 4-2. That's as close as the Astros would get, with Alex Bregman striking out to end the inning to strand the tying runs on base, then Houston coming up empty in the ninth.

Up Next: Houston's season is over, and they will now enter the offseason and the process of trying to re-sign existing players, if possible or picking up new ones. The Rays will travel to Arlington, home of Globe Life Field, where the World Series is being played. Game 1 is scheduled for Tuesday at 7:09 PM Central, pitching matchups TBD.

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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