Houston Astros, AL West take wild ride to final day of season

11:55 a.m. EDT October 4, 2015   PHOENIX -- Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch stripped off his uniform Saturday evening, started to head to the showers, and suddenly stopped, laughing at himself.

Come on, who was he fooling?  There was absolutely no reason to rush and catch the team bus back to the hotel.  “I’m not going to get any sleep anyways,’’ Hinch said.

“I want to play right now.’’

Yes, we’re talking about Game 162, which just so happens to be the Astros’ biggest game in 10 years.

The Astros clinched at least a tie for a wild-card berth Saturday with a 6-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, setting up what promises to be one of the most exhilarating season finales in AL West history.

Now, after six grueling months and 161 games, the Astros’ season, along with the Angels’ season, and even the Rangers’ season, is all on the line.

The Rangers, after their colossal collapse Saturday afternoon, lead the American League West by one game over the Astros, who lead the Angels by one game in the second wild-card race.

The Rangers can make it all so simple if they win Sunday with ace Cole Hamels on the mound, clinching the AL West and a date against the New York Yankees, with the Astros clinching a wild-card berth simply with the Angels’ loss.

Yet, if the Angels win, and the Astros win, there would be a Game 163 against the Rangers in Arlington, Texas, for the AL West title.

If the Angels win and the Astros lose, there would be a Game 163 against the Angels in Houston for the wild-card berth.

So, when the Astros wake up Sunday morning, they face the possibility of playing Monday in Houston or Arlington, Tuesday in New York or Houston, and Thursday in Kansas City or Toronto, or their season ending Monday night.

It’s a traveling secretary’s nightmare, and a drama lover’s dream.

“I love it,’’ Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said, “and it’s fun as a fan.  “But I’m a nervous wreck.’’

The Los Angeles Angels threw the AL West race and wild card races into bedlam Saturday by pulling off one of the most dramatic comebacks in franchise history, pulling out an 11-10 victory with five runs in the ninth inning, preventing the Rangers from winning the AL West, and stopping Astros’ wild-card clinching party.

There had been 1,761 games played since the last time a team came back from four runs down in the ninth inning on the road, and the Angels last pulled a ninth-inning deficit that large for a one-run victory in 1986.

“It’s probably the craziest game I’ve been part of,’’ Angels center fielder Mike Trout told reporters, “with everything we’ve got on the line. We lose that game, we’re in trouble.’’

The Angels would have been mathematically eliminated, and the Astros would have won the second wild-berth, if not for the comeback.

Yet, even with that scenario looming earlier in the day, Hinch and the Astros players were utterly confused who to cheer for while watching the game.

Here was Hinch, laughing and joking one minute Saturday afternoon, moaning and groaning the next, and grabbing his head in disbelief when the bizarre game ends.

It was no different than outside his office door, with his team sitting in front of the clubhouse TV. They were cheering and booing with each hit and out, with some players rooting for the Texas Rangers, and the other for the Los Angeles Angels.

“This is so crazy,’’ Hinch said, “I didn’t even know who to root for?

“Who was I supposed to be rooting for, can you tell me?’’

Said Astros catcher Jason Castro: “We kind of shifted as the game went on. We started off rooting for the Rangers, and by the end of the game, we were rooting for the Angels.’’

Why, even Astros president Reid Ryan said his own friends texting him all afternoon, asking who they should root for throughout the Rangers-Angels game.

“I had mixed emotions,’’ Luhnow said. “I’m thinking we have a chance to secure a postseason spot if the Angels lose. Then again, if they win, we have a chance to get back in the division, and that would be a great outcome for us. Then I said, there’s nothing I can do about the outcome, let’s not overthink this.

It was that kind of day.

It’s the kind of craziness that can make your head spin -- with the Astros not even sure how they should celebrate if they clinch the wild-card Sunday, but play for the division title Monday -- but Hinch privately confided after their victory that he’s now glad the Angels defeated the Rangers.

It gives the Astros a chance to capture the division title, and guarantees they’ll be playing at least until Monday.

“It’s still hard to root for either team, but now that we won,’’ Hinch said, “it certainly puts pressure on teams around us. It gives us a chance to win the division.

“Winning the division is a big deal. It’s a real accomplishment for your team, for your organization, for playing over 162. There’s a great advantage to winning the division. Most important, you get a full series to try to advance and not just one game.

“One game playoffs are uncomfortable for everybody.’’

Yet, it sure beats those days the Astros were losing 111 games, with Luhnow even changing his license plate to “GM 111’’, simply to remind himself of those painful losses.

“The last time 162 meant this much to me was 2011,’’ Luhnow said, “and it was one of the most exciting nights of my life.’’

Luhnow, the Cardinals scouting director at the time, watched the Cardinals beat the Astros the final night, the Atlanta Braves lose, and a month later, became World Series champions.

It was the year when the Rangers twice were within one strike of winning the World Series, but losing Game 6 to the Cardinals on David Freese’s heroics, and ultimately, Game 7.

And, yes, Luhnow couldn’t help but think back to those memories either Saturday afternoon watching the Rangers blow that ninth-inning lead from his hotel room. It was just two weeks ago when the Astros did the same thing to the Angels.

“Without that game, we might not even be here right now,’’ Luhnow said. “You can look at all of the probabilities you want, and percentage odds and this and that, but at the end of the day, the thing that’s not supposed to happen, happens often enough.

“Everyone needs to pay attention.’’

Trust us, we are.

Read 814 times Last modified on Monday, 05 October 2015 05:06