Road-field advantage? Astros need ALCS Game 7 win to avoid 2019 World Series repeat

The Houston Astros have a home-field “advantage” problem — namely that they have no home-field advantage after losing Game 6 of the 2023 American League Championship Series 9-2 to the Rangers on Sunday night.

There is no more sugarcoating this. It’s weird, it’s unexplainable, but it’s very, very real. And for Astros fans, it brings back bad memories from four years ago.

The two best words in sports are Game 7. But those words carry a dark omen for the Astros. Monday’s Game 7 (8 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App) is a coin flip at best. But the home teams in five of the last six MLB playoff Game 7s have lost.

The Astros know that well — the last Game 7 they played at Minute Maid Park was against the Washington Nationals with the 2019 World Series on the line. The Nationals won that night, completing a series in which the road team won every single game. If that sounds eerily familiar, it should. The road team has won every game of this ALCS so far.

The Astros had all the momentum after erasing a 2-0 deficit to the Texas Rangers in the series by taking three straight on the road in Arlington. Jose Altuvé’s clutch ninth-inning home run in Game 5 — after benches cleared in the eighth when Bryan Abreu hit Adolis Garcia — seemed like a knockout blow that the Rangers could never recover from.

And yet, the Astros let the Rangers seize the momentum right back. Garcia himself followed up his go-ahead Game 5 home run with a grand slam in the ninth inning of Game 6 on Sunday to put the game out of reach, despite dealing with some of the loudest boos I have ever heard directed towards a player in all my years in baseball.

As I have pointed out many times on “Flippin’ Bats“, this has been a constant problem for the Astros this season. They were MLB’s best team on the road, but had a record below .500 at home.

It starts with the Astros offense. The batter’s eye at Minute Maid Park is significantly smaller than it is up north at Globe Life Field, but clearly, that is no excuse given how the Rangers’ bats have performed in Houston, especially in Games 2 and 6. 

Houston Astros & Texas Rangers will play a Game 7 with the World Series on the line

The Astros still had plenty of chances to regain momentum at the plate in both of those games. They pushed a run across in the bottom of the sixth against Nathan Eovaldi and knocked him out in the bottom of the seventh, only for Josh Sborz to get Michael Brantley to ground into a double play to end the inning. Then they loaded the bases against Sborz and Jose Leclerc in the eighth, only for Leclerc to get pinch-hitter Jon Singleton swinging and preserve the Rangers’ 4-2 lead.

If Singleton is able to come through and at least tie the game, everything becomes different. Astros manager Dusty Baker likely turns to closer Ryan Pressly instead of Rafael Montero, who let Texas turn the game into a rout.

But it’s not just the offense; Houston’s starting pitchers are also getting outdueled. Jordan Montgomery outpitched Justin in Game 1 and wasn’t much worse in Game 5 either. Eovaldi outpitched Framber Valdez, a hero in the Astros’ 2022 World Series run, in both Games 2 and 6. If you’re the Rangers right now, you should feel like you can put up three or four runs against the Astros in this ballpark and feel like you have a really good chance of winning the game.

Texas Rangers’ Evan Carter on their HUGE ALCS Game 6 win & heading into a Game 7

The other thing the Astros desperately need in order to avoid a brutal repeat of the 2019 World Series is for Kyle Tucker to wake up. I’m struggling to comprehend what has happened to a guy who has looked like an MVP candidate at times over the past couple of years. He looks completely lost at the plate and is hitting just .179 in the playoffs. His return to form could change the entire dynamic of the Astros’ lineup. I have never seen Tucker take some of the swings that he took in this game, where he went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout and left multiple runners on base.

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Can Astros fans do anything to help their team? I have an idea: “Boo and blue.” That’s right — wear Rangers blue and boo the Astros. Make them feel like it’s a road game. I was joking when I suggested this after Game 5 in Arlington, but now I’m serious. The Astros need to feel like they are playing a road game Monday night, or at least play like it. Otherwise, their season is doomed.

Oh, and the probable starting pitcher for the Rangers on Monday night? Max Scherzer, one of the faces of the Nationals 2019 World Series run. The Astros need to change up the vibes and exorcise some ghosts in Game 7. Astros fans should be willing to do whatever they can to help the team do so.

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